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Fort Carson tight-lipped about doctor involved in prescription drug death

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A Fort Carson doctor who in late April prescribed to a sergeant what turned out to be a lethal combination of painkillers is still practicing at Evans Army Community Hospital.

That is all the post will confirm and may ever say regarding its internal probe into the death of 40-year-old Staff Sgt. Mark Waltz on April 30. Asked if the probe's results eventually would be made public, post spokeswoman Dee McNutt said, "Probably not."

Waltz, a member of the 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, died in his Colorado Springs home after slipping into a coma induced by drugs he was prescribed at Evans.

Three days earlier, Dr. Scot Tebo, a captain at Evans' DiRaimondo clinic, prescribed Waltz methadone for "chronic back pain." Medical records, provided by the Waltz family, show that Waltz was already on a powerful pain reliever morphine at the time Tebo prescribed the methadone.

The combination of the drugs led to an overdose, El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux told the Independent in an interview after issuing a June 12 death certificate specifying "mixed drug intoxication."

Though an internal investigation has been launched at the hospital, McNutt said, under law, she was barred from answering questions.

"We will not be able to answer any of [your questions]" based on the fact that medical reviews are exempt from disclosure," McNutt said. "We're not going to speculate at all."

When asked about a second investigation the post has previously described as "external," a Fort Carson spokeswoman referred questions to U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va.

The command could not be reached for comment by press time.

Meanwhile, Waltz's wife, Renea Waltz, and her three children, have left Colorado Springs and relocated to their home state, Ohio. Still shaken by her husband's death, she said Tebo "at least should have been put on probation or suspended until the investigation is done."

She alleged "malpractice" and said she wants to sue the Army for wrongful death. However, the military is protected from such lawsuits under a federal law that Renea Waltz plans to ask members of Congress to reform.

"I will go to Washington and knock on every door," she said.

She added it "is not about the money" because she will receive Army death benefits for her husband.

"It's about holding the Army accountable."

In addition to lower back pain, Mark Waltz, who toured Iraq twice and suffered when a bomb exploded near him, also had "chronic" post-traumatic stress disorder. In the months prior to his death, Mark Waltz, struggled to receive care at the post, his wife said (see "Fatal mistake?" June 28, csindy.com/csindy/2007-06-28/news2.html).

For example, in late March, Waltz visited a doctor in an Evans clinic for his back pain. The doctor told him he should not train physically, lift heavy objects or stand longer than 20 minutes, according to his medical records.

Yet commanders, according to Army records, disciplined Mark Waltz for the visit, claiming he did not have permission to miss duty, including when he was with the doctor. A first sergeant wrote that the doctor's request for three-day medical leave did "not have to be honored by the unit commander if the soldier in question has a history of questionable illnesses."

The questionable history was unspecified in the record.

In the wake of Mark Waltz's death, a commander's investigation was launched at the post to determine whether commanders harassed him.

"There was no evidence found to support allegations of unit harassment ... by the unit chain of command," the investigation, provided by the Waltz family, stated.

Renea Waltz disagrees.

"They didn't want to find out what happened to him," she said. "They wanted him to go away."

deyoanna@csindy.com

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