Hearing focuses on suicide

WARREN – An attorney representing two Champion doctors told a jury Monday that it was simply an ”irrational and impulsive act” that caused a 25-year-old Army veteran to salute his father in the family’s backyard and then shoot himself in the head.

”There is no blame in this case,” attorney Thomas Prislipsky told jurors in his opening statements shortly after the three men and five women were selected in the courtroom of Judge Ronald Rice.

Prislipsky represents Dr. Zachary F. Veres and his father, Dr. Frank G. Veres, who are being sued in the wrongful death-medical malpractice case brought by the family of Michael J. Ecker, who was honorably discharged in 2006 after fighting in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Striker Division.

”War can do horrible things to people,” said attorney Brian Kopp, who represents the Ecker family and who pointed out that the serviceman arrived home with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and traumatic brain injuries.

In addition, Kopp said Ecker was being treated for pain in his back. He had been a patient of the Veterans Administration Clinic for about three years and was found to be a risk for suicide.

Kopp said Ecker left the VA for treatment with the Drs. Veres approval, and the attorney blamed the doctors for spending no more than a couple minutes with Ecker at appointments.

”Not all patients can be treated in five or 10 minutes with a prescription pad,” said Kopp.

He said that on some appointment dates, the doctors were seeing up to 70 patients in a day and they failed to uphold the standard of care by never referring Ecker to psychiatric counseling.

”The doctors never made an effort to even get his medical file from the VA,” Kopp said. ”They were busy with Botox, laser tattoo removal, pain management, and cold and flu treatment. The absence of intervention led to this suicide.”

Kopp said Ecker’s father, Matt, a former Trumbull County Jail administrator, will testify later in the case, along with two medical experts.

Testimony also is expected from experts for the doctors, according to Prislipsky, who insisted ”there was a bond of trust” between Ecker and the doctors.

Prislipsky pointed out that Ecker fought with personnel at the VA when he couldn’t get his pain medication. He said doctors there wanted Ecker to undergo drug tests that could have led to psychiatric counseling.

Shortly before the suicide, Prislipsky said Ecker had finally found a job, and his relationships with his girlfriend and his parents were fine.

The defense also is expected to call a Champion police officer to the witness stand to explain a call to the family’s Center Street home over an argument about cigarettes that Ecker had with his brother, Mark.