Suspect in hepatitis C outbreak, scare in 8 states, wrote suicide note
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A traveling medical technician accused of causing a hepatitis C outbreak in New Hampshire wrote a suicide note saying he "couldn't handle this stress anymore" the week before his arrest, according to a police report.
David Kwiatkowski was arrested July 19 at a Massachusetts hospital six days after police found him apparently impaired in a hotel room scattered with prescription pills, according to police in Marlborough, Mass. Kwiatkowski is being held on federal drug charges in New Hampshire, and authorities are trying to determine if he spread the virus in seven other states.
Though federal authorities previously indicated that Kwiatkowski might have tried to harm himself in the days before his arrest July 19, the Marlborough police report includes new details, including a list of six prescription drugs that were found in Kwiatkowski's hotel room.
Officers also smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Kwiatkowski's breath, and he slurred his words when he spoke, police said.
Police also found a note that read, "please call Kerry and let her know I passed away. Tell her I couldn't handle this stress anymore." The MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, Mass., first reported details of the note.
"It was apparent from the note, pills and alcohol that David was trying to harm himself," Officer James O'Malley wrote.
Along with those new details of Kwiatkowski's recent past, his work history stretching back more than five years also continues to be investigated, though health officials say connecting him to hepatitis C cases in other states could be difficult.
The head of Arizona's state health lab said tests of people possibly exposed to hepatitis C in 2009 and 2010 - when Kwiatkowski worked in two Arizona hospitals - could indicate whether they have the disease but not how they got it.
The virus mutates within the body, so linking any positive test results to Kwiatkowski would be more difficult over time, particularly past one year, said Victor Waddell, who has a doctorate in molecular biology and genetics.
"It's going to be very difficult if not impossible," Waddell said.
Testing has been recommended for about 4,700 people in New Hampshire alone, and officials still are determining who should be tested in a dozen hospitals elsewhere. In addition to Arizona - where he was fired from one hospital after testing positive for cocaine and marijuana - he worked in Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania before being hired by Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire in April 2011.
Though he likely came in contact with thousands of patients in those states since 2007, it's unclear when Kwiatkowski became infected. He told authorities he was diagnosed in May; investigators say he has been infected since at least June 2010.
Kwiatkowski, 33, is accused of stealing anesthetic drugs from Exeter's cardiac catheterization lab and contaminating syringes used on patients. The case bears some similarity to that of Kristen Diane Parker, who is serving a 30 year sentence in Colorado after pleading guilty in 2009 to tampering with a consumer product and illegally obtaining a controlled substance. Kwiatkowski currently faces one count each of the same charges, though prosecutors expect to bring more when they seek indictment.
Parker, a surgical technician, was accused of stealing syringes filled with painkillers and replacing them with used syringes at two Colorado hospitals where she worked. Up to three dozen patients were found to have hepatitis C after being exposed.
Jeffrey Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Colorado, said Friday that lab testing confirmed that the victims were infected with the same strain Parker carried. All were infected during a six-month period when Parker worked at the hospitals, though under the product tampering law, prosecutors don't have to prove infection. Rather, the law applies to tampering with products with reckless disregard for the risk of death or bodily injury.
"The victims were victimized twice. They were victimized in the sense that during surgery they were deprived of pain medicine, and then some, not all, then later obtained hepatitis C," Dorschner said. "The charges that were filed were the charges most appropriate given the circumstances of the case, and that was proven by the prison sentence handed down by the judge."
In New Hampshire, U.S. Attorney John Kacavas has said that one of the strongest elements of his case against Kwiatkowski is the fact that the same strain of hepatitis C has been diagnosed in Kwiatkowski and 30 patients who were treated at the cardiac lab during his employment.
Asked Friday whether other states might have trouble bringing similar charges, he acknowledged that the virus does mutate, and that the more time passes, the more difficult it is to identify the strain.
Kwiatkowski told authorities he did not steal or use drugs.
Neither his lawyer nor prosecutors would comment Friday on the apparent suicide note. According to court documents, Kwiatkowski already had been questioned by law enforcement at least twice before the hotel incident.