Local News

Duke Hospital patient's death investigated as possible homicide

Posted October 13, 2010 2:59 p.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2010 6:56 p.m. EDT

— Duke University police are investigating the death of a Duke Hospital patient last week as a possible homicide, according to search warrants.

Cheryl Lynn Suber, 30, of Garner, died at the hospital on Oct. 5 of a cardiac arrest. An attending physician was suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her death, however, and asked for a police investigation, according to two search warrants returned Monday.

"At the current time, we do not know the cause of death or whether a crime has occurred," Duke University Police Chief John Dailey said in a statement. "We can say that this appears to have been an isolated case and that no medical personnel were involved, except in responding appropriately to the situation."

Dailey declined further comment, citing the ongoing investigation and patient privacy concerns.

Suber had sickle-cell anemia and was hospitalized frequently, according to her obituary. The search warrants state that she was in Duke Hospital for a non-life-threatening condition and was seen walking around the hospital and in relatively good health shortly before her death.

"We are devastated. The family is devastated. It was a complete shock," Suber's uncle, Kevin Suber said.

Suber's boyfriend, identified as David Bass, visited her room on Oct. 5 and, as he was leaving, told a nurse that someone should check on Suber, the search warrants state. The nurse found Suber unresponsive and issued a Code Blue alert.

As hospital personnel were trying to resuscitate Suber, they found a syringe in her bed, according to the search warrants. The syringe was labeled "saline," but the liquid inside was colored and opaque.

Nurses, physicians and a hospital pharmacist said that they didn't recognize the liquid in the syringe and that it was inconsistent with any medications administered on the unit where Suber was being treated, the search warrant states.

Investigators interviewed Bass, and he told them he noticed something was wrong with her and immediately notified a nurse, according to the search warrants.

Another nurse told investigators that she saw Bass go into the room 10 to 20 minutes before the Code Blue alert was issued.

Duke police obtained the search warrants to access Suber's medical records and to review hospital security video, which investigators said would establish when Bass went into and left Suber's room.

Suber's relatives said they weren't notified by police about their investigation.

"She is no longer with us, and we don't know why," Kevin Suber said. "If there has been an omission of information from the hospital or from law enforcement, we'd be grateful for being included in any and all communications."