Family seeks answers to suicide

The Associated Press
Tuesday February 13, 2001

LOS ANGELES — The deaths of a carjacking victim and her alleged attacker, who committed suicide, could have been prevented if a mental hospital and a jail had provided proper care for the man, his mother said Monday. 

Joshua Daniel Lee, 22, committed suicide in his Los Angeles County jail cell Friday, after being released from the jail’s mental health unit to its general population, where he was placed in a single cell. 

Police said he confessed to the fatal Jan. 30 stabbing of Diane Bragg, 66, of Bel Air after trying to take her car in a shopping mall parking lot in suburban Redondo Beach. 

“He should have been getting help and Mrs. Bragg would still be alive,” Lee’s mother Victoria Ainsworth said of her son’s release from a mental hospital after three days of treatment earlier in January. 

He was kept in restraints at the hospital, then “they sent him in a taxi to my father’s house without notifying anyone,” she claimed. 

Jail officials and spokesmen for Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center in Hawthorne did not immediately return telephone calls Monday. 

Lee was being held in a cell that is checked hourly when he was found hanging from a bedsheet at 12:42 a.m. Friday, sheriff’s deputies said. 

“He was placed in a mental health ward and then released to the general jail population after an early diagnosis of schizophrenia,” Mrs. Ainsworth said at a news conference outside the county’s Twin Towers jail. 

“I begged them to watch Joshua,” his mother said. She said jailers gave her little information about her son’s death “except that he killed himself.” 

“I’m here today to ask everyone — to help me in getting answers,” she said. “I want to make sure no one will suffer like the Braggs and our family.” 

“In the very words of what the police department told me, you can’t do anything until they hurt someone or hurt themselves,” she said, describing laws applying to the care of mental patients. 

While he was hospitalized he was given two medications normally used for psychotic patients, she said. 

Family attorney Glen Jonas contends county officials and mental hospital officials have yet to answer questions posed on behalf of the family. 

About the lack of a suicide watch, Jonas asked: “Who made that decision and why did they make that decision? They were aware of his mental health problems and then he was released into the general population.” 

Mrs. Ainsworth said she has been a nurse for 20 years, and she told hospital and jail officials about signs of her son’s mental illness, first exhibited in August. 

“He would have periods of normality. But at times there was apathy, delusions, hallucinations, anti-social withdrawal, agitation and emotional unresponsiveness,” she said. 

Before the mall stabbing, Lee had some “minor brushes” with the law, including “breaking into a car and stealing a beer when he was 18,” his mother said. 

“Josh liked to smoke pot, that’s it,” she said of problems before he confronted Mrs. Bragg — reportedly to obtain her SUV so he could leave town.