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Police Release List of Possible Victims of Calif. Mercy Killings

By T. Christian Miller
L.A. Times Staff
California

Glendale police on Sunday drew up a list of 30 people who may have been victims of hospital worker Efren Saldivar, who allegedly told authorities he killed dozens of sick and elderly patients.

But police warned that the preliminary list - the result of hundreds of tips and phone calls that continued to pour in Sunday - may produce no solid evidence against Saldivar, a respiratory therapist. In an alleged confession to police, Saldivar said he suffocated or gave fatal doses of drugs to 40 to 50 near-death patients at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. The 30 names were obtained from relatives who called in to express their concern that sick loved ones had died prematurely while at the hospital.

Police have yet to determine whether anyone on the list was cared for by Saldivar or whether their deaths were suspicious in any way.

"We don't want to put hope into any of those that have called in," said Sgt. Rick Young, spokesman for the department. "This is a starting place. That's all."

The volume of calls, more than 350 so far to police and hospital officials, has further complicated an already difficult investigation involving long-dead victims, dozens of cases and complex medical evidence. Some of the calls stemmed from worried relatives whose loved ones died in the hospital since 1989, when Saldivar started work at the hospital and allegedly began his mercy killings. Others came from "nut cases," Young said.

"We're getting all sort of calls, and it's draining our manpower and resources," Young said.

Medical experts have also said that investigators face a difficult forensic task and that even if bodies are exhumed, they may not yield evidence to determine if any crime was committed.

Police have brought no charges against Saldivar, a 28-year-old Tujunga resident whose whereabouts were still undetermined Sunday. Saldivar gave his purported confession to police after being detained March 11. But police were forced to release him after failing to find corroborating physical evidence.

Police sources said Saldivar hasn't been seen for four days, though his family told The Times on Saturday that he was merely hiding from the media glare, not authorities.

In an interview with The Times on Saturday, Eddie Saldivar said that his brother had denied making a confession to police. That runs counter to the description contained in an affidavit filed in connection with a hearing to suspend Saldivar's license to practice.

In that affidavit, police say they taped an alleged confession in which Saldivar detailed how he would suffocate or give drugs such as the muscle relaxant Pavulon to patients who met three criteria, according to an affidavit. Those criteria: The patients had to be unconscious, have given orders not to be resuscitated, and look like they were dying.

One worried friend was Critt Davis, 69, who said director-producer Arthur Lubin met the criteria described in the affidavit. Police did not know whether Lubin had ever been treated by Saldivar.

Lubin died at Glendale Adventist in May 1995 after several weeks in a coma. He was on a ventilator at the time of his death, Davis said about the director-producer.

Lubin - the director of such classic movies as "Phantom of the Opera" and producer of the "Mr. Ed" television show - had deteriorated significantly in his last weeks.

"I think now there will always be a question mark for me about what happened," Davis said. "It is scary that somebody could do that. I think it is unfortunate that a lot of people will be upset when they need to exhume bodies and such."

In response to the allegations, hospital officials fired Saldivar and had his license suspended. They also suspended with pay three other respiratory care therapists after police said their conduct had raised "red flags."

Though police wouldn't describe the nature of their concerns, Saldivar told investigators that he grew confident in his mission after other therapists at the hospital allegedly began giving him the room numbers of terminally ill patients.

As a precautionary measure, hospital officials also suspended 41 other respiratory therapists - the entire respiratory staff of the hospital. Police said they were interviewing those therapists one by one to see whether they were involved in the deaths. A hospital spokeswoman said she didn't know whether any of the therapists had been cleared to return to work.

Work at the facility was slowly returning to normal as hospital officials Sunday night hosted 600 community leaders and supporters at the 450-bed facility's previously scheduled annual fund-raiser.

Before addressing the crowd, Robert Carmen, the hospital president, told a reporter that all of the guests he had spoken to at the black-tie gala at Glendale's Red Lion Inn supported his staff's handling of the incident.

Speaking later from the dais, Carmen said no patients have asked to be transferred from the hospital.