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Ancora's chief ousted over suicide

N.J. ordered a shake-up at the state psychiatric hospital, from which a patient escaped and was later found dead.

The head of Ancora Psychiatric Hospital and a security guard have been removed from their jobs following the suicide of a patient who was under 24-hour watch after a brief escape, state officials said yesterday.

Two other hospital employees - the assistants who were supposed to be watching the patient - have been suspended and could face further disciplinary action.

It was the second escape in three months by an Ancora patient who had been committed after having been found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

"We are sending a clear message that we recognize that the hospital has some systemic issues and is in need of immediate action," Ellen Lovejoy, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said yesterday.

Lovejoy said an investigative team from Human Services headquarters in Trenton was at Ancora, in Winslow Township, and its findings likely would prompt further changes in operations, staff and management.

The highest-ranking casualty of yesterday's shake-up was Latanya Wood El, a 25-year veteran of the Department of Human Services and chief executive officer at Ancora since 2000. Lovejoy said Wood El would be reassigned; it was unclear yesterday what her new duties would be.

To replace her, Greg Roberts, assistant director of the Office of State Hospital Management, has been appointed acting director at Ancora. Roberts has run Ancora, as well as three of the state's four other psychiatric hospitals, in the past.

Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez had vowed to take action after Sunday's escape by DeWitt Crandell Jr. of Englewood, Bergen County, the son of a prominent Columbia University psychiatrist, who in 1996 stabbed his father more than 30 times with a nine-inch hunting knife. When his mother tried to intervene, he stabbed her to death, too.

On Sunday afternoon, using court-ordered unsupervised grounds privileges, Crandell left the Ancora property, which has a fence but no locked gates. He was discovered two hours later, naked, scratched and bleeding, walking along railroad tracks near Hammonton, Atlantic County.

Crandell was returned to the hospital and put under "direct supervision," meaning an around-the-clock watch that requires two hospital assistants to keep him at two-arms'-length reach at all times, according to Lovejoy.

About 3 a.m. Monday, Crandell hanged himself with a bed sheet in a bathroom between two patient rooms.

Although the two assistants assigned to Crandell have been suspended, Lovejoy said hospital officials continue to study security surveillance tapes to determine where, exactly, they were at the time.

The security guard who was relieved of his duties works for a firm that has a contract with the hospital. He will not return to Ancora.

The other recent missing Ancora patient was William Enman, who was gone for three days in September before he returned to Ancora and was found on the campus. In 1974, he beat his roommate and his roommate's 4-year-old son to death with a baseball bat.