A TOMS River psychiatrist was high on drugs when she treated Seaside Heights Patrolman Edward L. Lutes several months before the SWAT team member went on a shooting rampage that left five neighbors dead, according to the doctor's former office manager and romantic partner.Dr. Debbie L. Miller checked herself into a private drug rehabilitation center in December and surrendered her medical license in February after a relapse into prescription drug abuse, according to the state Board of Medical Examiners. The board has known about Miller's substance-abuse problems since 1997 but allowed her to practice, according to board records.
On the night of April 9, Lutes killed his Dover neighbors with his SWAT-issued automatic weapon, then shot himself fatally in the head with a pistol after attempting to kill his police chief.
Lutes "was one of the people that (Dr. Miller) treated, and she said it was OK for him to go to work," said the former office manager, Maria A. Baldasarre, who now works in Florida as a prison psychologist. "I thought the guy was a loon. He was taking psychotropic medication. ... He looked high to me. He was not what I would call on an even keel. He looked like he was buzzed."
"I talked to Miller about Lutes," Baldasarre told the Asbury Park Press. "We had discussions that he was drinking heavily, that he was still working. That (the police department) was having problems with his behavior.
"Miller was high 24-7. I lived with the woman. ... If you are taking a cocktail of drugs, barbiturates, narcotics, speed - handfuls at a pop - wouldn't you be high? There were times when patients were literally sitting there and she was nodding off on them, almost like in a delirium sometimes."
Lutes visited Miller at least twice in the summer of 2001, Baldasarre said. She said she was not in the office all the time and did not know exactly how many times the Seaside Heights officer saw Miller. She didn't know when or if Lutes stopped seeing Miller.
Baldasarre she took no action other than discuss the case with Miller: "I'm not the doctor. All I can do is make a suggestion."
Baldasarre's allegations that Miller treated Lutes could not be independently confirmed.
Baldasarre said that during the entire time they were together - including the time Miller treated Lutes - the psychiatrist worked under the influence of prescription narcotics, even though she was monitored by the state-approved treatment program for impaired physicians that tested her urine samples twice a week for signs of drug abuse.
Baldasarre, 46, said she was Dr. Miller's lover for four years, but the couple broke up in December 2001 when Miller entered the Marworth Treatment Center in Pennsylvania.
Miller, 53, was able to fool state-approved drug monitors for more than four years by using urine obtained from other adults, children and even the couple's pet dog, Baldasarre said.
Miller could not be reached for comment. She has declined in the past to comment on the suspension of her medical license. The mobile phone she once used has been disconnected.
The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and a lawyer for the Lutes family declined to comment on Baldasarre's allegations. Medical Board Chairman William V. Harrer could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Lutes' two sisters and his parents have filed tort claim notices with Dover Township and Seaside Heights, charging that the municipalities failed to provide Lutes with needed medical and psychological attention in the months before the slayings. Tort claims are filed prior to a lawsuit against public bodies. Dover supervised the regional SWAT team that Lutes belonged to.
Seaside Heights lawyer Thomas E. Monahan said yesterday that Lutes "had no psychological problems with the Seaside Heights Police Department that we were aware of." However, Lutes could see a psychiatrist on his own time and not tell his superiors, Monahan said.
Medical board flaw?
Miller's own medical board records and Baldasarre's claim that the psychiatrist was able to fool the state-sanctioned drug treatment system, called the Physicians' Health Program, raise questions about the board's effectiveness.
The goal of the PHP, which is run by the Medical Society of New Jersey, is to monitor physicians with substance abuse problems and keep impaired doctors from treating patients.
The program is sanctioned by the state Board of Medical Examiners, which regulates and licenses New Jersey physicians. The medical society is a nonprofit, educational group for about 8,000 of the state's 24,000 doctors. The majority of 600 medical professionals in the PHP are physicians.
Carl M. Selavka, director of the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory System and a national drug-testing expert, said that in addition to urine tests, intense drug-monitoring programs also should use a variety of tests, such as hair, blood and sweat samples to minimize the possibility of someone fooling the monitors. PHP does none of this routinely.
Selavka also said that unannounced tests are critical. The PHP's policy is to call doctors the day before they need to submit a urine test. This gave Miller enough time to fake her tests, Baldasarre said.
Until July 2000, Miller was required to submit to twice-weekly urine tests, according to medical board records. She voluntarily agreed to remain in the program after all restrictions on her license were lifted that year. Baldasarre said Miller continued to submit to, and fake, her urine tests.
"If this cop had been treated by (a) psychiatrist who had been sober, would it have been different? I don't know," said Charles B. Inlander, president of the People's Medical Society, an Allentown, Pa.-based medical consumers group. "The issue here is this doc, who was found to be a drug abuser. They give her a chance by letting her be monitored, she cheated on the monitoring, and they let her come back in again. That is the horrible thing ... in any other setting this person would have been treated as a criminal drug abuser, not as a doctor."
Revenge called motive
Authorities say the 42-year-old Lutes killed his neighbors with his police-issued automatic MP5 during a deranged revenge plan.
Lutes first shot his East Dover neighbors, Gary Williams, 48, and Williams' wife, Tina, 46, before killing three other neighbors: Dominick Galliano, 51, and Galliano's wife and son, Gail, 49, and Christopher, 25.
Lutes then drove to Seaside Heights Police Chief James M. Costello's house in Barnegat, where he shot and wounded him. A short time later, Lutes shot himself in the head while sitting in his car.
Lutes had charged that Dominick Galliano exposed himself to Lutes' 8-year-old daughter in 1999. Two years later, an Ocean County jury acquitted Galliano of all charges. Gail Galliano and Gary Williams had testified at the trial in Dominick Galliano's defense.
The Lutes family, in their tort claim, said police should have taken Lutes' weapons away, relieved him of his duties and taken other action to protect the public. In the five years preceding the shootings, Lutes had gone through a difficult divorce, the death of his fiancee in an accident on the day they were engaged, and personal bankruptcy.
Confidential law enforcement sources have said Lutes had shown signs of severe stress, including heavy drinking, frequent gambling and many missed work days.
Fooling the monitors
Miller fooled periodic drug tests performed by state-approved drug monitors for more than four years by using urine obtained from others, according to Baldasarre, who said she lived with Miller from August 1997 until the physician entered a drug treatment program Dec. 21., She said that when Miller couldn't obtain drug-free urine from others, including children who lived in their one-time penthouse apartment in Bloomfield, Miller would turn to the couple's dog, a bichon frise named Goliath.
"Debbie would chase the dog around the yard with a pot," Baldasarre said.
Baldasarre now lives in Broward County, Fla., and works as an inmate psychological evaluator at a state prison.
While in Toms River and working for Miller, Baldasarre said she managed the doctor's office and, with a master's degree in psychology, counseled many of Miller's patients, Baldasarre said.
On a number of occasions, Baldasarre received urine collection kits from the drug monitor so Miller could give a sample in the privacy of her home. After Miller filled the cup with someone else's clean urine, Baldasarre mailed them back to the testing lab, she said.
Even random urine testing gave the doctor time to prepare for the test.
The drug monitor would call the day before to tell the doctor that a sample would be taken the next day, according to Sharon Joyce, a deputy attorney general with the Division of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the medical board. Such calls are routine for all enrolled in the drug-monitoring program, Joyce said last spring.
Miller entered a rehabilitation clinic in December 2001 and in February surrendered her license for at least six months, according to public records from the state medical board.
Miller has the option of reapplying for reinstatement of her license today but has not done so, said Genene Morris, a spokeswoman for the Division of Consumer Affairs, the state agency responsible for licensing doctors.
The Feb. 13 order in which Miller surrendered her license for at least six months said Miller "admitted a relapse into the abuse of controlled dangerous substances." To Baldasarre, "There was no relapse - she never stopped taking her drugs."
This spring, Miller did not respond to certified letters and telephone calls from the Press regarding Baldasarre's claims concerning Miller's drug use. Neither Miller nor her lawyer could be reached this week for comment.
Prescription drug use
Baldasarre said Lutes started seeing Miller after he was being treated by another Toms River psychiatrist, Dr. Mohamed H. Yosry. Yosry could not be reached for comment yesterday.
James J. Carroll III, a Galloway lawyer representing the three children of Gary and Tina Williams, also filed tort claim notices against Dover Township and Seaside Heights.
Carroll said the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office allowed him to look at an 8-inch-thick criminal file concerning Lutes. During a three-hour review, in which Carroll was not allowed to make photocopies, Carroll said he saw Yosry's file on Lutes and a printout from the Eckerd pharmacy chain that showed the officer had received a year's worth of some 50 psychotropic drug prescriptions and refills, including Luvox, an anti-depressant similar to Prozac.
Luvox is a brand name of fluvoxamine, an antidepressant and anti-obsessional drug. Lutes' body fluids had traces of fluvoxamine, and he was intoxicated with alcohol at the time of the shootings, according to Lutes' autopsy report.
Carroll said he does not recall seeing information related to Miller. He believed that the records showed Lutes was seeing Yosry shortly before the April 9 shootings.
"Whether he had other (doctors) or not, I don't know," he said. "We obviously want to know everybody who had the opportunity to stop this guy and did not take appropriate efforts."
The PHP and Board of Medical Examiners has declined to comment on Miller's case. Both also would not say if they are re-examining their drug-testing program in light of Baldasarre's allegations.
This spring, lawyer Sharon Joyce, then the acting Consumer Affairs director, said allegations that Miller was faking her drug tests last year were looked into by the medical board but "could not be confirmed."
James W. Prado Roberts: (732) 643-4223 or email@example.com