Crime & Courts

Coroner saw 31 of Schneider's patients

Jaime Oeberst said she kept having to examine the patients of a Haysville doctor.

Oeberst only sees patients in one condition — after they've died. She's coroner and chief medical examiner for the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center. She took the witness stand Thursday to testify about 31 of those deaths. All were patients of Stephen Schneider.

"We had a very large number of his patients in our office," Oeberst testified.

"They all died of overdoses?" asked prosecutor Tanya Treadway.

"Yes," Oeberst said.

"From taking prescription drugs?" Treadway asked.

"Yes," Oeberst said.

Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, say they are innocent of the 34 criminal charges relating to their family medical practice in Haysville, which brought them to trial this week.

The defense had just started its cross-examination of Oeberst as court ended Thursday, and lawyers indicated they will put on expert testimony to dispute some of her findings.

Prosecutors say the Schneiders oversaw the illegal prescription of strong narcotics at their clinic, which led to dozens of patient deaths.

All of the bodies she examined, Oeberst testified, had ingested lethal doses of strong narcotics. Many times, they had taken more than one drug.

Jurors heard about a 46-year-old man who Oeberst said died of mixed-drug intoxication in April 2006.

The man had high cholesterol and heart disease, but Oeberst said what killed him was a mixture of high levels of the pain relievers hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and the muscle relaxant carisoprodol.

Oeberst said overdoses cause the nervous system to slow down so much the body forgets to breathe, and the heart stops beating.

Oeberst also examined a 47-year-old woman who died of a fentanyl overdose, a narcotic stronger than morphine. Oeberst said toxicology reports also showed the woman had ingested Valium and lidocaine.

Prosecutors say both received prescriptions for the medications from the Schneider clinic days before they died.

Lawrence Williamson, Stephen Schneider's lawyer, suggested in cross-examination that some patients were given large amounts of narcotics because they had developed a resistance to them and needed increasing doses to treat chronic pain.

But the numbers of patients Oeberst testified she was seeing was so large she noted it as a trend in the community.

Hospitals were seeing a trend, too.

Via Christi emergency rooms in Wichita recorded more than 80 patients in three years treated for drug overdoses and naming Schneider as their primary care physician.

That was far more than any other physician, an official from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services testified.

Perry Seaton counted 84 Schneider clinic patients who came to Via Christi ERs with drug overdoses from 2003 to 2006. It was four times more than the doctor with the second highest number of patients treated for emergency overdoses.

Seaton said 10 more said they were patients of another doctor at the Haysville clinic.

"What was the most common number of patients from a doctor?" Treadway, the prosecutor, asked.

"One," Seaton said.

On cross-examination by Williamson, Seaton said he couldn't say how many of those patients were still being treated by the doctor at the time of their overdoses. He also did not know whether they were seeing physician assistants at the clinic.

The trial continues today.

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