Newsday (Nassau Edition) from Hempstead, New York on September 14, 1997 · 7
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Newsday (Nassau Edition) from Hempstead, New York · 7

Hempstead, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, September 14, 1997
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Deaths illnesses in medic’s wake from LI to Africa By Ellen Yan STAFF WRITER Quincy 111 — The glass of unsweetened iced tea on the lounge table looked untouched Paramedic Fred Bennett had taken only a sip before he and his partner Greg Myers had to hustle out of Blessing Hospital on an emergency call- When the two returned a co-worker told them he had seen an off-duty paramedic Michael Swango hurriedly back his car up the alley as soon as the ambulance turned the corner: “It was like he saw you guys coming and didn’t want you seeing him” For a month in that fall of 1984 several paramedics stationed at Quincy's two hospitals had fallen violently ill and no amount of scrubbing the ambulances and checking the hospital air ducts had solved the mystery But Swango had a reputation for erratic (hiving and Bennett thought nothing more of his co-worker’s comment other than “That’s Mike” He took a drink and stopped in surprise “Oh it was just extra sweet and like a fool I said ‘Greg' this is sweet Here’ ” Bennett recalled Myers tried it too and soon his stomach churned with the same stirrings that had preceded an onslaught of vomiting three weeks before “We have to save this to get it tested somehow” he told Bennett The iced tea sealed by the paramedics into a cup for dentures contained a potentially lethal dose of arsenic and proved to be important physical evidence in convicting Swango of poisoning six co-workers all of whom recovered The Illinois case set the tone for much of Swan go’s career In many of the places he has worked since serving two years in prison from New York to Zimbabwe Swango has been suspected in a number of deaths and sudden illnesses although he has never been charged in connection with them Swango 42 and his current lawyer have declined to comment Since July Swango has been held in Brooklyn on a federal fraud charge stemming from his 1993 residency at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport On Friday federal prosecutors charged Swango with five counts of illegally prescribing narcotics to patients at the hospital His trial which had been Bet for Monday was postponed until November At the same time Zimbabwe wants Swango extradited in connection with a probe into the deaths of five patients at a rural mission hospital where Swango worked in 1995 And hopeful that information from across the ocean can point to new avenues of inquiry the VA inspector general’s office has reopened an examination of the cases of about 147 patients under Swan go’s care at the Northport center and a few deaths on his wards in 1993 Lawsuits alleging that Swango was involved in two deaths were initiated but later dropped because of a lack of evidence “We want to make sure that we didn’t miss anything in light of everything that has happened in Africa" said Bruce Sackman the special agent in charge of the Northeast region for the VA inspector general In Quincy a town of 41000 down by the Mississippi River those who thought they knew Swango now think they were only on the outside looking in Who is the real Michael Swango? “I don’t think anybody knows” said Myers who testified against Swango during the 1985 trial “I don’t know if Mike knows Mike” Swango was admired: smart valedictorian of his class quick-learning musician and student council member Those who knew him say he could accomplish almost any goal he set for himself As a doctor-in-training he’d drive about 445 miles from his Ohio hospital job to Quincy to work weekends as a paramedic He would lie on his cot fully clothed to wait for calls and would go without sleep for days Pboto by Joe Linen From left Greg Myers John Miller Ken Mondon and Fred Bennett ell of Quincy III were paramedics who worked with Michael Swango convicted in 1984 of assault for poisoning them while stationed at hospitals there Medical student Michael Swango in 1982 Southern Illinois University yearbook However his co-workers said he also spoke of what he called the perfect paramedic call — a school bus that crashes and ejects children onto barbed wire fences He kept scrapbooks of tragedies his co-work-ers say and found fault with his father until he learned that his dad too had kept a scrapbook of deadly accidents and crimes Eventually the town where generations of Swan-gos grew up treated him lik Public Enemy No 1 The police sat outside his house and trailed him around Newadsy File Pboto Don Jacobwn Swango arrives in Uniondalo in July for arraignment on fraud charges related to his residency at a Northport VA hospital the dock The hospitals hired extra security Patrol cars accompanied ambulances on their calls Michael Swango was not yet a teenager when his father Army Col John Virgil Swango returned with his family to his hometown before heading for Vietnam in 1967 This ended the almost-annual moves from military base to military base and the young Swango was soon enrolled in the Christian Brothers Please see SWANGO on Page A44 § NEWSDAY SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 14

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