Mother of man who killed wife, daughter, self: Psychiatrist ‘could have stopped it’ — (The Westchester County Journal News)

SSRI Ed note: Psychiatrist prescribes Ambien and antidepressants to man, who starts to act strangely, strangles wife and daughter, stabs himself to death.

Original article no longer available

The Westchester County Journal News

February 23, 2007

Author: Bruce Golding

A psychiatrist who was scheduled to treat Steven Lessard broke the appointment without notice hours before Lessard began the prolonged murder-suicide that wiped out his family, the killer’s mother said.

Helen Beach said yesterday that her son showed up for a second meeting with the psychiatrist Feb. 15 but was told he wasn’t there.

“If the doctor had been there … perhaps he could have detected something and stopped this tragedy,” Beach, 78, said by telephone from her Florida home. “I feel very bad about it. The doctor could have stopped it.”

Beach said her son was referred to the psychiatrist by his family physician after complaining of depression that he couldn’t shake. Beach said she learned about the broken appointment during a telephone conversation with her son’s wife, Kathy Lessard, later that same day, when the region was blanketed with snow and ice from a storm the day before.

State police said they think Lessard, 51, strangled his 48-year-old wife inside their Lake Peekskill home either late Feb. 15 or early Feb. 16. Lessard strangled the couple’s 14-year-old daughter, Linda, sometime after she returned from school Friday, then fatally stabbed himself sometime after about 3 p.m. Saturday, when he was seen by a neighbor, police have said.

On Wednesday, police identified Dr. L. Mark Russakoff as Lessard’s psychiatrist.

Russakoff, director of psychiatry at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow, did not return a message left for him yesterday.

A Phelps spokeswoman said a “lot” of the information relayed to the newspaper was inaccurate, but she would not elaborate, citing confidentiality rules.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you what’s right and what’s wrong,” spokeswoman Mary Sernatinger said.

Capt. Keith Corlett of the state police would neither confirm nor deny the events described by Lessard’s mother. But he said Russakoff declined to discuss Lessard with investigators.

“We made the attempt, and he basically told us that we’d have to subpoena his records,” Corlett said.

Lessard, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who worked at the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan, was put on paid leave Feb. 8 after colleagues reported that he began acting strangely after one of his car’s tires went flat.

Corlett said police had not yet identified the pills in one of two bottles of medicine found in the Lessard home after the killings. But he said it was possible that the drugs were “as innocuous as Excedrin in the wrong bottle.”

The second bottle held 12 tablets of the prescription sleep aid Ambien, Corlett said. Lessard’s family doctor prescribed him 15 tablets, which he obtained from a pharmacy Feb. 7, Corlett said.

Ambien has been linked to numerous instances of trance-like behavior in which users have walked, cooked, eaten and driven in their sleep. It carries warnings that uncommon side effects include hallucinations and suicidal thoughts and that the frequency of those side effects was tied to factors including the use of other drugs.

Lessard’s mother said she thought her son had been taking antidepressants and possibly an herbal remedy recommended by his wife, who she said didn’t believe in antidepressants .

The results of toxicology tests on Lessard’s body aren’t expected for at least six weeks.

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Original article no longer available

MURDER-SUICIDE: Father was placed on leave for irrational behavior — (The Journal News)

By Greg Clary

February 20, 2007

BUCHANAN – Steven Lessard, the killer in the Putnam murder-suicide case, first showed some irrational behavior at his Indian Point job on Feb. 8, when co-workers noticed that he seemed to be unusually upset about his car getting a flat tire.

The normally quiet 51-year-old U.S. Naval Academy graduate didn’t routinely generate much notice among his co-workers, said a spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns and operates the plant.

But that day, he was visibly upset about what he had to do to get his car back on the road, and it triggered the other members of his 12-employee project management group to notify their supervisor, Michael Rutkoske.

“We’re trained and required to do that,” said Entergy spokesman Jim Steets. “It was a relatively minor personal issue, so after talking to his supervisor, the two of them went up to speak to the fitness for duty coordinator.”

Sharon Quinn, a registered nurse, spent 90 minutes with Lessard and Rutkoske and they all agreed that Lessard should go home until he felt better. Steets said he continued to be paid during his time off.

“She offered him help through our employee assistance program, but he declined,” Steets said. “He said he was seeing a doctor. She even asked him if he were comfortable with that doctor and he said he was.”

Lessard was due today to speak to Entergy officials about returning to work, a day after authorities discovered that he had strangled his wife, Kathy Lessard, 48, and their 14-year-old daughter Linda, and then killed himself in their family home in Putnam Valley.

Indian Point officials said Lessard had been transferred at his own request from an engineering job at Indian Point 2 to a project management position that served the entire nuclear site.

At the time of his leave, he was working on a piping upgrade to serve Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3. He did not operate any equipment or deal with any safety-related procedures, officials said.

Rutkoske said early this afternoon that Lessard was “a very dedicated worker” who had come under Rutkoske’s supervision in October.

“He was relatively quiet,” Rutkoske said. “Very much interested in following proper processes and procedures.”

When the flat tire problem upset Lessard so much, Rutkoske said he knew it had something under it that was the real cause of his agitation.

“It just meant to me that there were other things going on, if a car tire was getting him upset,” the supervisor said.

Rutkoske said Lessard wasn’t the kind of guy who mixed a lot with co-workers and ate his lunch alone most of the time. He said he hadn’t heard anything about possible domestic troubles.

Lessard’s co-workers were concerned enough about him that they took up a collection and sent him a basket of fruit while he was on medical leave. His wife even called up to thank the workers for their thoughtfulness and said he was doing better, company officials said.

“He had no performance issues, and when they asked him about lightening his load, he didn’t want to do that because he didn’t want to burden his co-workers,” Steets said. “The feeling was that he was very hard on himself. But he was considered a ‘valuable contributor,’ which is a category of employee rating that the company uses.”

Lessard had come to the site in 1995 as an employee of General Physics, an engineering contractor. He was given a routine psychiatric evaluation and background check at the time. The background check was updated as required in 2003, with no visible problems, Steets said. He had been hired full time by Con Edison in 2001, right before the plants were sold to Entergy.

“The background check can often turn up outside stresses, such as financial,” he said. “But none showed up.”