Experts testify in suicide case

WARREN – In what has turned into a battle of expert witnesses, two out-of-town doctors testified Wednesday on behalf of a local father-son physician practice, insisting the pair did not mistreat a 25-year-old Iraqi War veteran who committed suicide after returning home to Champion.

The experts also told a jury that the pain and depression medication that Dr. Zachary F. Veres and his father, Dr. Frank G. Veres, prescribed for Michael Ecker in 2009 did not cause the member of the 101st Airborne Striker Division to pull out a gun and kill himself in front of his father.

”There was no indication he (Ecker) was suicidal when he was treated by (either Dr. Zachary or Dr. Frank Veres). He had started a job a week earlier. He and his family and his girlfriend were getting along well. The care was appropriate and in no way was a cause of the suicide,” said Dr. Gregory Collins, who works out of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation’s Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center.

Collins, a former team psychiatrist and associate team physician for the Cleveland Browns and a co-founder with Sam Rutigliano of the renown Browns ”Inner Circle,” also said from his review of the case there was nothing Ecker’s family could do to prevent the vet’s suicide.

”It’s tough to deal with these illnesses. He (Ecker) was never going to be the same. He was a casualty,” Collins said, after explaining Ecker’s post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic head injuries.

Besides Collins, Dr. John Hocutt of The Villages, Fla., a family practice expert, had a similar opinion that supported the local doctors, who maintain their practices in Champion.

Ecker’s father and surviving family members are suing the doctors for medical malpractice and wrongful death.

Attorney Brian Kopp, who represents the family, has been critical of the Vereses, referring to their work with Botox, laser tattoo removal, pain management, and cold and flu treatment as detracting from the treatment of patients.

Sometimes the doctors treat more than 60 or 70 patients a day, Kopp said, adding that their absence of psychiatric intervention led to the suicide in August of 2009.

Both local doctors testified as well Wednesday, explaining that Ecker never showed any warning signs of suicide.

Dr. Frank Veres, who served in the Navy and worked in a Naval hospital, said he thanked Ecker for serving his country while meeting with him the first time in January of 2009.

He described himself as ”old school” and preferring to meet eye-to-eye with patients rather than type up computerized notes during appointments.

He said it was difficult to retrieve records already documented by the Veterans Administration where Ecker was initially treated.

Ecker left VA personnel who were treating him and went to the Vereses, since they were near his Champion home. He saw the local physicians monthly from January until his death in August.

Closing arguments are expected later today in the case when Kopp will most likely address the jury of three men and five women concerning what he sees as damages.

Kopp earlier had two other physicans testify as experts who blamed the local doctors for breaching the standard of care and as at least partially a cause for the suicide.