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Former nurse charged in string of hospital deaths

December 29, 1997

NEWPORT, Ind. (AP) _ A former nurse who was on duty when dozens of hospital patients mysteriously died was arrested Monday and charged with killing six of them with injections.

Orville Lynn Majors, 36, was on duty when 130 of 147 patients died in 1993 and 1995. Police have said he was a suspect in as many as 100 of the unexplained deaths, and a search of his former home this year turned up a variety of drugs, syringes and needles.

In at least one case, investigators say they have an eyewitness, Paula Holdaway, who said she was in the room when Majors came in and gave her mother, Dorothea Hixon, an injection.

``Majors kissed her on the forehead, brushed her hair back and said `It’s all right punkin, everything’s going to be all right now,‴ Detective Frank Turchi said in an affidavit filed in court.

``Within 60 seconds after that, Hixon rolled her eyes back and died.″

No injection had been ordered by Hixon’s doctor, according to the affidavit.

Majors has maintained his innocence. He was arrested at his parents’ home and jailed without bond.

His lawyer said there is no evidence Majors did anything wrong.

``I am shocked, stunned and severely disappointed,″ I. Marshall Pinkus said. ``It’s a travesty.″

State police and prosecutors, who spent $1.5 million searching for the cause of the deaths of mostly elderly patients, declined to elaborate on the charges.

However a state police commander said an extensive study of the victims finished in early November was a turning point.

During the period Majors worked at Vermillion County Hospital, now known as West Central Community Hospital, a death occurred every 23.1 hours that he was on duty, according to the study. When he was off duty, a death occurred every 551.6 hours.

``Once we got that (study), things sailed right along,″ said Lt. Charles P. Ellis, commander of the state police post at Terre Haute, about 15 miles south of Clinton, where the hospital is located.

The investigation included the exhumations of 15 patients, including the six people named in Monday’s court affidavit who all died from injections.

An autopsy revealed that three of the patients’ deaths were consistent with the injection of potassium, which can cause the heart to stop.

Police said that in two cases a witness saw Majors give a patient an injection just before the patients died. In one case, a nurse saw Majors standing over a victim with syringe in hand, and in another case Majors was the last person seen with patient, investigators said.

The hospital suspended Majors in March 1995, after it began an investigation into the surge in unexplained deaths. Police refused to name him as a suspect until July, however.

The State Nursing Board revoked his license for five years in 1995 _ not for causing deaths but for practicing beyond the scope of a licensed practical nurse by giving emergency drugs and working in intensive care unit without a nurse present.

The extensive study completed this fall found that deaths at the hospital reached ``epidemic″ proportions from July to December of 1994, and that Majors was ``uniquely and very strongly associated with that mortality,″ according to the affidavit.

During the epidemic period, 67 people died in the intensive care unit and Majors was working on 63 of those instances, the report found.

The connection grew so obvious, one nurse said, that her colleagues on the night shift made bets as to what patients would die the next day when Majors was working.

In a typical instance, one nurse told police that several patients were fine when she left her shift, but later died when Majors was on duty. Another reported leaving a patient in good condition only to have Majors report moments later that the patient had died.

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