Patient is beaten, strangled in fight

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. --- A patient at Central State Hospital was beaten and strangled in his room after an altercation with another patient in the maximum security wing, authorities said Monday.

The death comes after a federal investigation that culminated in May 2008 with the U.S. Justice Department citing Georgia's "unabated" failure to address dangerous conditions in state mental hospitals that have caused preventable deaths, injuries and illnesses.

The 39-year-old man was killed in his room after the altercation Sunday night in the Cook Building, which houses patients referred by the courts for reasons such as evaluation of mental competency or those who have been judged to be mentally ill, said Tom Davis, the agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation office in Milledgeville.

Death was attributed to asphyxia by strangulation, with a contributing factor of blunt force trauma to the head, according to the medical examiner's report.

Baldwin County Coroner John Gonzalez identified the victim as Christopher Yates. Mr. Gonazalez did not have his hometown, nor did he know why Mr. Yates was a patient there.

Investigators were looking for a rope used to strangle Mr. Yates, the coroner said.

The GBI wouldn't comment on a suspect or motive but said there had been no arrests as of Monday afternoon.

Another patient was involved in the death, said Taka Wiley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Resources, which operates Georgia's seven mental hospitals.

She declined further comment, except to say the DHR was assisting the GBI in the investigation.

Central State Hospital is the largest and oldest of Georgia's facilities for the mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

It opened in 1842 as the State Asylum for the Insane.

PATIENT DEATHS

Investigations by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution concluded that abuse, neglect and poor medical care contributed to the 136 patient deaths in the state hospitals from 2002 through 2007.

In August, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced a reorganization of state social services, a plan that would include a new agency dedicated to mental health care. The DHR plans to close some of hospitals, move some patients to others and direct many would-be patients toward community-based mental health care facilities.