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Lori Duffy Foster

... write to think; think to write.

Paper: Post-Standard, The (Syracuse, NY)


Date: June 28, 1996

Timothy Whitley's family was alarmed after they learned he'd swallowed 18 tablets of Valium Friday. Their worries were just beginning.

The next five days would be filled with razors, blood, emergency rooms, stitches, tears and more Valium as Whitley fought to control three conflicting desires.He craved alcohol, he wanted to stay sober, he wanted to die.

Death won Wednesday night when Onondaga County sheriff's Deputy David Mearon pumped a bullet into Whitley's chest. Mearon was the instrument in Whitley's suicide, his family said. His family doesn't blame the deputy.

"There is something wrong with the system," his brother-in-law, Paul Husted, said. "The system failed him."

Whitley, 35, was a recovering alcoholic. Alcohol abuse had led to his arrests in three states, Husted said. In 1992, he moved to Central New York and married Husted's sister, Donna.

Husted said Whitley usually was a good father and husband. The couple had two children together - 4-month-old Jessica and 3-year-old Stacey. He treated his wife's son, 8-year-old James, like his own, Husted said. The trouble started when he drank.

"Alcohol made him violent," Husted said.

About 2 1/2  years ago, Husted had Whitley arrested on charges of harassment and trespassing. He told Whitley he needed help for his alcoholism. Whitley agreed and spent three months in treatment. He stayed sober until last week.

Last week, Whitley told his doctor he feared he was becoming addicted to the pain killers he'd been taking since April for a back injury, Husted said.

The doctor prescribed Valium on June 19.

A nurse who cares for Stacey, who is disabled, stopped by the Whitleys' home at 406 Hawley Ave. Friday. She saw Whitley take 18 Valium tablets, Husted said.

Whitley visited neighbor Gregory Taylor Sunday. He was distraught and appeared intoxicated, Taylor said. His family later learned Whitley had taken another 20 Valium tablets.

"I tried to get him some coffee. He kept saying, `What am I going to do? The Valium is getting too good.' He wanted help," Taylor said.

Taylor suggested he call his sponsor from Alcoholics Anonymous. Sunday night, Whitley locked himself in his bathroom and slashed his wrists with a razor. He told Syracuse police he had a gun.

Police talked him out and found no gun. He arrived at the University Hospital emergency room about 1 a.m. Monday, his wife said. He returned home

24 hours later with over 100 stitches.

Later Tuesday, Whitley started vomiting blood, his wife said. His AA sponsor took him to the emergency room about 8:15 p.m. Whitley came home about 2 a.m. Wednesday, Donna Whitley said.

His family blames University Hospital for what happened from then on. The doctors should have committed Whitley under state mental health law, Husted said. Doctors can hold patients for up to 15 days if they are mentally ill and might be a serious threat to themselves or others.

Dr. Peter Mariani, associate director of the University Hospital's emergency department, said the hospital is investigating Whitley's treatment. He said he could release no details because of patient confidentiality rules.

About 5 p.m. Wednesday, Whitley visited Taylor for the last time. He was jittery, Taylor said.

"He gave me a hug and said, `See you later. Thanks for being a friend.' He usually gives handshakes. It made me kind of cautious, concerned," Taylor said.

About 6:40 p.m. Wednesday, Whitley called on his neighbor, Lawrence Yacketta, 21.

Yacketta was too distraught Thursday to talk to reporters, his mother, Lillian Yacketta said.

Lillian Yacketta said Whitley wanted a ride to Phoenix, where a woman he met through Alcoholics Anonymous lives. Whitley and the woman were once neighbors and often walked to meetings together, Donna Whitley said.

Before they left, Whitley bought ammunition for a gun he'd apparently bought on the streets earlier this week, deputies told Husted. Then they stopped at a liquor store for alcohol.

They drank no alcohol while they talked with Whitley's friend, but they drank in the car on the way home, Husted said. The pair became lost while driving home along Route 57, so they called Whitley's AA sponsor on a cellular phone for directions.

Moments later, Whitley pulled out a gun and stuck it in Yacketta's ribs, Lillian Yacketta said. Then he fired two shots through the car floor, deputies said.

Yacketta stopped the car and fled to a house. He watched his friend wave his gun and shout, "Kill me. I want to die," Lillian Yacketta said. Then he watched Whitley die, she said.

Husted has hired a lawyer to see if the hospital or the private doctor failed his brother-in-law.

"It just really saddens me," Husted said. "It's just a real system breakdown here because at this point, he left three beautiful children behind needlessly."