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Police delay charges to avoid 'astronomical' meth burn costs
Memphis Commercial Appeal ^ | 2/27/12 | Kristina Goetz

Posted on 02/27/2012 7:18:08 PM PST by SmithL

Sitting in the driver's seat of his Chevy Cavalier, Chris Burns gripped a 20-ounce soda bottle and waited for his "shake and bake" methamphetamine to cook.

Then came the explosion and fire.

Burns and passenger Bobby Joe Joyner fled as blazing chemicals scorched their skin.

When police caught up with the pair, they admitted to cooking meth and causing the explosion while sitting at a stop sign on a rural Fayette County road. But it was months before either faced criminal charges.

To have charged the men en route to the hospital would have shifted the burden of paying for their care to the Fayette County Sheriff's department.

Two weeks later, Burns walked out of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis owing $160,000 -- a tab he can't pay that is the problem of a much larger group of taxpayers in Shelby County and throughout the region served by the hospital.

"We took them straight to the grand jury after they got out of the burn unit because we could not afford to arrest them ...," Fayette County Sheriff Bobby Riles said. "I mean, that would bankrupt the county in a minute."

The practice of delaying charges to avoid medical bills has long been practiced by law enforcement. But the staggering cost of dealing with meth burn patients has made it even more common -- especially in small communities where a single case can quickly overwhelm a county's budget.

"My experience is that's the way it's always been," said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. "I was a D.A. for 16 years, and if somebody was injured and they weren't an immediate danger to themselves or others, we'd wait until after they'd healed up before we would arrest them.

"I just have to be honest. It's just a flat-out attempt to avoid paying astronomical medical bills by taxpayers."

Similar cases have turned up in other states as well, including Indiana and Oklahoma.

Malcolm Gwinn, a deputy prosecutor for Vanderburgh County in Indiana, delayed prosecution of a man who was severely burned last year after an alleged meth explosion because of the cost of an extensive skin transplant. He knew the man wasn't a flight risk and didn't consider him a danger to the community.

"Most of the people that we're talking about are probably going to receive some sort of public assistance for the payment of their health care, and that cost would then be borne by the taxpayers statewide as opposed to the individual county," he said.

The Firefighters Regional Burn Center located at The Med treats nearly 500 patients annually, with between 200 and 300 being admitted for extended care. Unlike at Vanderbilt University Hospital where one-third of burn injuries are meth-related, the number at The Med is relatively small, said Dr. William Hickerson, a professor of plastic surgery and the unit's medical director.

No matter what the cause, somebody has to pay for the care, and oftentimes people who are burned in meth-related incidents don't have health insurance, which means taxpayers cover all or some of the bill.

Funding for that care at The Med comes from a variety of sources, including Shelby County residents. But Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee state governments also provide funding for burn and trauma care because The Med is home to the only Level 1 burn and trauma centers in a 150-mile radius.

Hospitals such as Vanderbilt and The Med are considered "disproportionate share hospitals" because they serve a significantly disproportionate number of low-income patients so they receive federal dollars to help cover some of the cost as well.

If the costs aren't covered, they're considered uncompensated care, and hospitals write that off at the end of each year, said John Howser, assistant vice chancellor for news and communications at Vanderbilt.

In the March 2009 Fayette County case, law enforcement officials found Burns in the back room of a house covered in blankets. He suffered third-degree burns over 16 percent of his body, including his face, arms, legs and hands. Joyner was in the back seat of a pickup that officers stopped for reckless driving. He had second-degree burns on his back, shoulder and left arm.

Joyner was taken by ambulance to Methodist Fayette Hospital, and Burns was sent to The Med, where he stayed for two weeks, including one week in the intensive-care unit, he said. He had to learn to walk again.

Without health insurance, Burns was left with a $160,000 medical bill. He pays a little on it when he can, he said.

Sheriff Riles has never had another case like it before or since. He knew the men weren't a flight risk and that they'd eventually be charged.

But he also knew their medical bills would overwhelm his annual health care budget of $120,000, which covers every toothache, ear infection and head cold for the 180-plus inmates who can be housed at the jail at any given time.

Burns was indicted by a Fayette County grand jury in July 2009 and pleaded guilty to initiation of process to manufacture methamphetamine. He was at home and still in bandages when he was arrested.

Burns served 90 days in jail and will be on probation until 2017, he said. Joyner pleaded guilty to the same charge and was given the same sentence.

Dist. Atty. Gen. Mike Dunavant, who serves five counties including Fayette, said he doesn't want citizens to get the impression that badly injured criminals won't pay for their crimes.

"All manner of ailments and diseases and injuries that jails have to address, medications -- it can certainly be costly to a county budget," Dunavant said. "But that's the constitutional mandate of holding somebody in custody.

"We try to be sensitive to that, but I want to make it clear that, in my opinion, no one is ever too sick or too injured to be held accountable. We move forward with those charging decisions as soon as we can, logistically and reasonably, to hold them accountable."

Burns has been back to jail twice since serving his initial 90 days for breaking his probation for failure to report. But he's tired of going back to jail and has kept out of trouble since December.

Scars from the meth burns are still visible on his arm and leg, though the pain has subsided in the years since the fire.

As for meth, Burns said he won't touch it again. It wasn't worth the jail time or the injuries.

"I don't even want to mess with it," he said.


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Government; US: Tennessee
KEYWORDS: arrestedarrest; gak; meth; methamphetamine; yourtaxdollarsatwork

Chris Burns suffered third-degree burns over 16 percent of his body in 2009 while cooking meth. Law enforcement agencies often delay charges against suspects until care is complete to avoid incurring the cost themselves.
1 posted on 02/27/2012 7:18:21 PM PST by SmithL
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To: SmithL

Well my view is:

1. It is great to see any government agency operating with a budget constraint.

2. When they were in the hospital for burn treatment, they probably were not much of threat to society.


2 posted on 02/27/2012 7:27:12 PM PST by JLS (How to turn a recession into a depression: elect a Dem president with a big majorities in Congress)
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To: SmithL

Chris Burns
Scott Burns
All kids of burns


3 posted on 02/27/2012 7:27:53 PM PST by ClearCase_guy ("And the public gets what the public wants" -- The Jam)
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To: SmithL

shouldn’t have even bothered to take them to the hospital...just wait until they are crispy....no trial no hospital costs.


4 posted on 02/27/2012 7:28:07 PM PST by Nifster
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To: Nifster

I highly recommend letting them get burned.

They’ll never do meth again.


5 posted on 02/27/2012 7:31:56 PM PST by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: SmithL

Next we’ll be seeing these people suing the county for NOT arresting them.


6 posted on 02/27/2012 7:34:07 PM PST by Balding_Eagle (Liberals, at their core, are aggressive & dangerous to everyone around them,)
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To: SmithL

They got burned twice.


7 posted on 02/27/2012 7:35:41 PM PST by Mr Ramsbotham (Laws against sodomy are honored in the breech.)
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To: goldstategop

In custody...out of custody.... doesn’t really matter
from the taxpayers perspective. Either they pay more
tax to fund the sheriff for having to cover the medical
bills of prisoners or they pay more in taxes, health insurance costs and a myriad of other costs that are passed
on by the hospital that was forced to care for these two
legged animals.

As long as we have EMTALA and other laws and lawyers who
will sue a hospital at the drop of a hat health care costs
will continue to skyrocket and quality of care will suffer.


8 posted on 02/27/2012 7:37:46 PM PST by nvscanman
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To: goldstategop

Possibly following some bogus recipe planted by God knows whom. Something that ignites being done in a plastic soda bottle? That sounds more insane than crackheads.


9 posted on 02/27/2012 7:38:47 PM PST by HiTech RedNeck (Sometimes progressives find their scripture in the penumbra of sacred bathroom stall writings (Tzar))
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To: nvscanman

There ought to be an omnibus state fund for this. Bring it out into visibility and show it to taxpayers. Leave the sheriff’s office out of it unless the sheriff was to blame for the injury.


10 posted on 02/27/2012 7:41:08 PM PST by HiTech RedNeck (Sometimes progressives find their scripture in the penumbra of sacred bathroom stall writings (Tzar))
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To: goldstategop; Nifster
"I highly recommend letting them get burned. They’ll never do meth again."

If you mean that if they burn to death they'll never do meth (or anything else) again, you are undoubtedly correct.

If their getting burned anything much short of that is the result, I'm not so sure about these folks not doing meth again sans professional help. It's that strong an addiction.

11 posted on 02/27/2012 7:46:15 PM PST by Flotsam_Jetsome (If not you, who? If not now, when?)
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To: goldstategop

That reminds me of “Give a man fire and he’ll be warm for a day - light a man on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life...”


12 posted on 02/27/2012 7:48:14 PM PST by Hegemony Cricket (The emperor has no pedigree.)
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To: HiTech RedNeck

Sometimes the local jail is holding people waiting the get into the State Pen. Everytime they have any complaint and ask to see the physician they have to bring them in to my office. Most are bogus. Alot want me to order them 3 pillow, two mattresses, pain meds, something for anxiety and to sleep. They are out of luck. But, the city has to pay. I always charge a small amount. I am kind. They all want the mush meth mouths treated by the dentists. All the health problems they caused and never saw a physician for they now can demand be treated. Just the way it is.


13 posted on 02/27/2012 7:48:33 PM PST by therut
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To: nvscanman
thank you...
14 posted on 02/27/2012 7:49:26 PM PST by Chode (American Hedonist - *DTOM* -ww- NO Pity for the LAZY)
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To: therut

You might be wise to get references to previous physicians before dismissing such cases out of hand. More of the mentally ill than “normal” people end up going to jail and of course they will more likely to be on treatment regimens which were abruptly ended when they were arrested.


15 posted on 02/27/2012 7:51:39 PM PST by HiTech RedNeck (Sometimes progressives find their scripture in the penumbra of sacred bathroom stall writings (Tzar))
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To: SmithL

Smart move by the sheriff.
By the way, in my earlier days, I maintained their radio communications system, but it was then Sheriff Bill Kelly, a text book copy of a southern county sheriff, and very popular.


16 posted on 02/27/2012 7:53:44 PM PST by AlexW
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To: SmithL
But he's tired of going back to jail and has kept out of trouble since December.

Ha ha...it is now February...2 months without being arrested and put in jail isn't much of an accomplishment.

I agree with the county not paying fr this stuff.

17 posted on 02/27/2012 7:57:04 PM PST by Tainan (Cogito, ergo conservatus sum)
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To: SmithL

Napalm sticks to little meth heads...


18 posted on 02/28/2012 7:37:54 PM PST by Mountain Troll (My investment plan - Canned food and shotguns)
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To: SmithL

Perhaps these are all mistaken cases of spontaneous human combustion?

Burn, baby, burn!


19 posted on 02/28/2012 7:47:08 PM PST by 43north (BHO: 50% black, 50% white, 100% RED)
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To: SmithL

What’s the big deal? Send the bill to the federal 0bamaCare overseers, didn’t they get the memo that everybody has free health care now?

/sarc off


20 posted on 02/28/2012 8:02:53 PM PST by mkjessup (Romney is to conservatism what e.coli is to an all-you-can-eat salad bar. NO ROMNEY!!!)
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To: SmithL

I see no problem with delaying the arrests. They couldn’t have put them in jail, meaning that the tax payer would also have been on the hook for the police to guard them i hospital.


21 posted on 02/28/2012 8:21:32 PM PST by submarinerswife (Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results~Einstein)
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To: goldstategop
I highly recommend letting them get burned. They’ll never do meth again.

What makes you think that?

22 posted on 02/28/2012 8:22:38 PM PST by submarinerswife (Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results~Einstein)
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To: Balding_Eagle

Not that I want things to go to h*ll, but I would love to see lawyers try to bring lawsuits when there’s no budget for court. Will they sue the planet? Each other? Their Moms?


23 posted on 02/28/2012 8:46:24 PM PST by JmyBryan
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To: SmithL

Why the hell are we paying for these idiots?! Let them die in agony.


24 posted on 02/28/2012 11:46:38 PM PST by Fire_on_High (WTB new tagline, PST!)
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To: 43north

From “Saving Private Ryan” on the beach at Normandy, “Let’m burn, let’m burn!”


25 posted on 02/29/2012 2:43:20 AM PST by Portcall24
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