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3rd Ex-Mental Patient Drowns

September 14, 1989

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Three men recently discharged from a state mental hospital have drowned in the past two months, and state officials have asked for an investigation.

The body of Joseph C. Thomas, 58, was recovered Tuesday from a creek after he was reported missing from a boarding home. He had been discharged from the Philadelphia State Hospital in January as part of the state’s effort to close the outdated, 77-year-old institution, known as Byberry.

Two other former Byberry patients, Tyrone Gainey, 37, and Joseph Gutgesell, 31, drowned last month in the Schuylkill River in separate incidents. A third patient leaped into the river but survived.

State Welfare Secretary John F. White Jr. on Wednesday said he would ask District Attorney Ron Castille to investigate.

″Is it merely a coincidence that these three ... managed to find their way to water and meet their deaths in the same way?″ White said. ″There very well may be something else at play here.″

Gov. Robert P. Casey indefinitely postponed the hospital closing, which had been scheduled for Sept. 30, after the first two deaths because of questions over whether the patients discharged can live on their own.

White said the latest death further proved the need to review the closing.

All three patients had been assigned to treatment teams that were supposed to watch over them closely as an alternative to hospitalization, and White said officials were trying to get Gainey back into a hospital at the time of his death. White would not say why.

An autopsy on Thomas showed he drowned, but the circumstances were listed as undetermined. Gutgesell’s death was ruled an accidental drowning. As of last month, there had been no ruling on how Gainey drowned.

Thomas had been living in his own apartment until Friday, when he was moved into a personal-care boarding home because of heart problems.

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