Father: Son may have had breakdown — (Sentinel and Enterprise)

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Sentinel and Enterprise

Jeff Mcmenemy

4th March 2010

FITCHBURG — The father of an Army National Guard captain charged with assaulting four people and a state trooper at a Route 2 gas station said his son must have suffered some sort of “mental breakdown,” to act the way he did.

“He’s 32 years old, he never hit anyone in anger in his life,” Dennis Richards said about his son, Jason Richards, 32, of Templeton, during a telephone interview with the Sentinel & Enterprise. “It’s totally out of character for him. He never talks back to people, he never even curses.”

Dennis Richards described his son as a devoted husband and father of two young boys who was inspired to join the military in part because of the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

Dennis Richards’ father, who Jason Richards is close to, endured a stint in a prisoner of war camp during World War II.

“He joined just to fight for the country and to defend the country,” Dennis Richards said. “My father inspired him to do that.”

His son is facing numerous charges in connection with what State Police say was the unprovoked attack at the Prime Gas Station on Route 2 East early Monday morning.

Trooper Marc Roy spotted Jason Richards in the middle of Route 2 when he arrived at the gas station and said the suspect “pushed me aside while screaming that there was a bomb in the victims’ car,” according to Roy’s report filed in Fitchburg District Court.

“Mr. Richards screamed this from the time I arrived on scene until he was transported to Leominster Hospital by EMS,” Roy said in the report.

Jason Richards jumped into Roy’s cruiser and fought with the trooper despite being hit by Roy’s baton several times, according to the report.

Jason Richards repeatedly cursed at Roy and four other troopers who arrived at the scene, according to the report.

“Mr. Richards continued screaming that there was a bomb in the MV(motor vehicle), asked if I watched the news, and told me to call my wife to warn her,” the report states.

Jason Richards reported to police after his arrest that he had received psychiatric care for depression in 2008 and had been taking the anti-depression drug Paxil, according to court documents.

His father, Dennis Richards, said his son has been treated for depression, but didn’t know the details about the treatment.

Jason Richards, along with his two young sons, visited his father last week, and then visited his grandmother in a nursing home, Dennis Richards said Tuesday.

“I did call my oldest daughter after he visited and said he didn’t seem right,” Dennis Richards said about the visit. “Maybe what happened Monday started then.”

Dennis Richards remains “stunned,” by the whole incident and worried for the victims of the assault.

His son graduated from Worcester State College, where he played on the baseball team.

“It’s totally out of character for the man,” Dennis Richards said about the incident. ” … I will try to make amends in any way I can. I feel terrible about the victims and I hope they’re all right.”

Dr. Christopher Kennedy, a psychiatrist at HealthAlliance Hospital/Leominster, said the drug Paxil that Jason Richards told police he was taking is a popular anti-depressant.

“This is one of the most popular classes of medication in the world and they tend to be well tolerated,” Kennedy said about Paxil and other similar medications. “A lot of people are taking this kind of medicine.”

But Kennedy pointed out that there are potential side effects for a small percentage of patients who take Paxil.

One of the problems Paxil can cause is it can make a manic episode — a distinct period during which there is an abnormally and persistently elevated, or irritable mood — “worse or can help to bring them on,” Kennedy said.

“It’s associated with very erratic behavior,” Kennedy said. “Someone will seem very revved up, tending to not sleep much, they might be very impulsive: People go on spending sprees, have affairs and get in fights, they’re not really thinking.”

And in worse-case scenarios, the manic episodes can cause psychotic symptoms, including paranoid thoughts and delusions, Kennedy said.

“The idea that an anti-depressant could have played a role in someone’s bizarre behavior is not an outlandish idea,” Kennedy said. “It can happen.”

Maj. Lisa Ahaesy, public affairs officer for the Massachusetts Army National Guard, said Jason Richards was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in August, but won’t be able to if there’s any outstanding charges against him.

That would have been his first deployment overseas, Ahaesy said.

“He may be separated from service depending on the outcome of those proceedings,” she said.

Jason Richards is an infantry soldier, who is now on full-time orders while waiting to deploy to Afghanistan, she said.

“The Guard considers criminal activity inconsistent with service,” she said, but noted it’s too early to say what will happen in his case.

His father, Dennis Richards, said the captain’s wife is worried that Jason Richards will lose his jobs and benefits because of the incident.

“I was stunned when his wife called and she said they were trying to cut ties with him,” Dennis Richards said.