Criminal charges dropped in death of dental patient
The El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office has decided to drop criminal charges against a dentist, who was accused of causing a 37-year-old South Lake Tahoe man to bleed to death in the summer of 1998.
Dr. Carl Griswold may still lose the right to practice dentistry, however, if a judge recommends the State Board of Dental Examiners take away his license.
“I think justice has been done,” said Griswold’s attorney, William Routsis. “This was a fine doctor who never should have been charged with a crime, period.”
Griswold had been charged with involuntary manslaughter after taking eight teeth from a patient who was so ill that the 65-year-old dentist admitted to wondering what was wrong with him.
Scott Gullin – a severe alcoholic who was riddled with disease – told Griswold that he thought his teeth were killing him. The day after they were removed he died in his bedroom, lying in blood that had pooled in his sheets and splashed onto the walls.
A pathologist, Curtis Rollins, who originally said the cause of death was bleeding caused by the dental extractions, changed his mind after seeing pictures of the room where Gullin died.
Rollins testified at the conclusion of a Dental Board hearing last week that, while the extractions contributed to Gullin’s death, the primary cause was a gastrointestinal hemorrhage related to his alcohol abuse.
Many alcoholics suffer from similar conditions and Gullin, who drank heavily for 20 years, also suffered from severe cirrhosis of the liver, congestive heart failure, hypertension and hepatitis.
“Based on these new and highly significant developments, the District Attorney’s office has concluded that further prosecution of the case at this time would not be in the interests of justice,” Deputy District Attorney Peter O’Hara said.
“I am pretty happy for the doctor,” said Routsis, who called the pathologist courageous for changing his diagnosis. “I said from the beginning that the case never should have been filed but I tip my hat to Pete O’Hara for dismissing it.”
A judge is reviewing testimony given during the two-week hearing which ended March 24, and at which Rollins announced his amendments to the autopsy report. After 30 days the judge will make a punishment recommendation to the board of examiners.
Deputy Attorney General Joel Primes, who is representing the state in its effort to sanction Griswold, is confident the board will take action despite the changes to the autopsy report.
“It didn’t help my case, but I don’t think it hurt it,” Primes said. “My only allegation is that the excessive extractions hastened the death.”
According to witnesses, Gullin was very ill July 28, 1998 when he arrived at the Preventative Dental Care Center where the operation took place. Griswold told investigators that Gullin was lethargic and had a distended stomach at the time of the procedure, and office employees said that Gullin’s skin was yellow and that he had sores on his face and hands. One woman said she thought “he could die anytime.”
Griswold suspected Gullin was an alcoholic but removed his teeth anyway, according to investigator Lynn Thornton, who interviewed the dentist after Gullin’s death.
When Gullin left the clinic 10 minutes after the procedure, blood was on his shirt and still oozing from his mouth. Employees told investigators he looked like he was in a daze.
“The bottom line is that he did not have to do it,” Primes said. “Who knows? Maybe if Griswold had postponed the dental extractions (Gullin’s) medical condition might have improved.”
“This young man, God rest his soul, went home for 32 hours and made no effort to get help,” he said. “In almost 30 years Dr. Griswold has never had a complaint filed against him. You can just imagine what this has put him through.”
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