Monday, October 1, 2007

The Very Strange Story Of Carol Anne Gotbaum

The woman to your left is the deceased Carol Anne Gotbaum, 45, of Phoenix, AZ. On Friday, September 28, Mrs. Gotbaum, a married mother of 3 young children, attempted to board her scheduled flight to Tucson. She was denied entry to the gateway because it had already been separated from the plane, which was about to be pushed away.

Reports are vague at this time, but what seems to have happened is that Mrs. Gotbaum became agitated when she was not allowed to board. Perhaps she saw that the plane was still at the gate. Perhaps airport personnel were wrong about the status of the plane, or were correct but Mrs. Gotbaum could not tell from her vantage point, or perhaps the personnel were simply following orders in refusing to make an exception.

Reports are that Mrs. Gotbaum "became extremely irate, apparently running up and down the gate area," airline spokesman Derek Hanna told the Daily News. The use of the word "apparently" indicates that Hanna did not witness the event.

Mrs. Gotbaum was subdued by airport secturity, including a knee in the back while she lay prostrate on the floor of the terminal screaming "I am not a terrorist! I am a sick Mom who needs help!" This much is probably accurate.

Mrs. Gotbaum was handcuffed and forcibly removed to the holding area, where she was placed alone in a cell, still handcuffed behind her back. She was left that way for an undetermined time probably less than an hour.

During this time, according to airport police, Mrs. Gotbaum was "checked" every "10 to 15 minutes". This may or may not be true, and it is unclear what is meant by "checked." Apparently Mrs. Gotbaum was not plainly in view of police personnel, because she managed to strangle herself in an attempt to move her handcuffed hands in front of her. Only when personnel noticed that she was no longer screaming, did they realize what had happened.

It should be clear that much of the above is pure speculation based on second and third hand accounts, as well as uncorroborated and presumably self serving statements by some of those involved. There have been no specific, corroborated accounts of any of this event, nor any video evidence produced. There are far more questions, at this time, than answers.

VSS will stay on this story until all the facts are known. We are especially interested to know what Mrs. Gotbaum meant when she said "I am a sick mother and I need help!"

Eyewitness or other incontrovertible evidence would be greatly appreciated.

(3:29 PM EDT) One question has been sort of answered: Mrs. Gotbaum was on her way to receive treatment for alcoholism in Tucson. This may explain what she meant when she referred to herself as a "sick mother." More at the Arizona Republic.

(Oct 2, 2007, 10:07 EDT) Now this update comes in: "Carol Gotbaum arrived in Phoenix from New York on a US Airways flight just before 12:30 p.m. Her connecting flight to Tucson, on US Airways Express, was scheduled to leave at 2:58 p.m. But she went to lunch between flights and lost her seat because she arrived at the gate too late, Manning said. Mesa Air Group, which operates US Airways Express under contract with US Airways, would not comment on any aspect of the incident because of the ongoing investigation, spokesman Paul Skellon said." (Arizona Republic)

And this from the New York Post, which apparently has broken out as the most aggressive news organization on this story so far:

The Post has learned the troubled woman twice attempted suicide in the past year amid booze abuse.

A police spokesman yesterday said the chain connecting Carol's handcuffs had been attached to another handcuff that was on the end of a 24-inch-long shackle. The handcuff on the other end of that shackle was attached to a hook on a bench where she was placed.

"We still do not know how Ms. Gotbaum was able to manipulate the handcuffs to the position she was in," Sgt. Andy Hill said. "But when she was found, her handcuffs were in front, and the shackle was still attached to her handcuffs. The chain was not wrapped around her neck. It was pulled across the front of her neck area."

A mother of three, Carol Anne Gotbaum was on her way to an alcohol-rehabilitation program in Tucson, according to Manning, who said a family friend was supposed to meet her in Phoenix. But the friend was not there, a source said.

Sources said Carol's marriage to Noah Gotbaum, whose father is renowned labor leader Victor Gotbaum, had long been rocky and the South African native has been emotionally "volatile" for years.

Carol's father recently died.

On Nov. 1, 2006, authorities said, NYPD officers were called to Carol and Noah Gotbaum's Upper West Side town house to assist a 44-year-old woman who had attempted suicide by taking pills.

Then, in the past three or four weeks, Carol tried to kill herself in an unknown manner and was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, sources said.

On Friday afternoon, Carol began screaming, "I am not a terrorist," at an attendant in the Phoenix airport after missing her flight, said Omar Guerrero, 22, a worker who saw her.

Carol dropped her bags, began stomping her feet and said, "I'm not a terrorist. I'm just sick. I need help. I'm just a mother. I'm just a sick mother," he recalled.

When a security guard tried to calm her, Carol ran to a nearby checkpoint with her hands up and began speaking in a foreign language to three cops who surrounded her.

"She may have looked like she was crazy, but she looked sad to me. She was crying," Guerrero said of Carol, who broke away from cops and then punched and kicked at them when they tackled her.

(Oct 3, 2007, 13:32 EDT) The NY Post is reporting today that the Maricopa County Medical Examiner refused to postpone the autopsy while the family arranged to have it observed, and then refused to release the deceased to her family.
"They won't release the body to us," Manning said yesterday afternoon. "They're putting us in a very difficult position. We're alarmed and disappointed."

But the body eventually was shipped to a Phoenix mortuary, where Wecht, who has probed the deaths of President John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Anna Nicole Smith's son, performed another own autopsy.

"Everything went fine. I did what I came to do," Wecht said.

Manning said Wecht's results are expected in "a week or so."

Also, a disturbing new detail: Mrs. Gotbaum was evidently disrobing in the terminal:
Witnesses said Gotbaum, who was stripping off her clothes and screaming that she was not a "terrorist," was handcuffed by cops. They put a knee in the Upper West Side woman's back to restrain her on the floor during a disorderly-conduct arrest.

If this is true, it is simply one more reason that security personnel should have suspected that they had a medical situation on their hands.

Police and Manning suspect the woman, who attempted suicide in New York in the past year, was asphyxiated.

Dr. Michael Baden, another famed forensic pathologist, said, "There were a number of things that were done wrong here.

"If she's asphyxiated, someone else did it," said Baden, head of the New York State Police Medicolegal Investigation Unit.

Baden said that given her emotional state, she should have been taken to a hospital - and she should not have been left alone.

Noting that it would have been impossible for Gotbaum to strangle herself - because she would have passed out before being able to apply enough force to kill herself - Baden said "the most likely cause of death has to do with asphyxia and could be a result of too much pressure on her chest when they were putting on the handcuffs and the shackles."

Manning said that Carol Anne spoke to her husband, Noah, when she landed in Phoenix, telling him, "I want to do this [get treatment for alcoholism] for us. I want to do this for our kids. I'm committed to this. I'm so happy."

The Arizona Republic took the day off from coverage, which is quite interesting considering that the autopsy took place yesterday and, as yet, has not been covered in the Phoenix newspaper.

However, the NY Daily News (we seem to be "fortunate", in the news context, that Mrs. Gotbaum was a New Yorker) has fresh new details of Mrs. Gotbaum's final moments:

The daughter-in-law of city Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum frantically dialed home when Phoenix ticket agents refused to let her board a flight to a stint in alcohol rehab.

"They are not letting me on! It's all falling apart," Carol Anne Gotbaum told her husband, Noah, before she dropped the phone at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, witnesses said.

Noah Gotbaum called back, desperately trying to persuade the U.S. Airways Express agent to calm his wife and let the mother of three board the plane for the $42,000-a-month Cottonwood de Tucson rehab program, friends and witnesses said.

"It will be okay. She just needs to take her medication. ... She hasn't taken it today," an airline worker said Noah Gotbaum begged. His wife was taking prescriptions for anxiety and depression, sources said.

The airline agent called Phoenix police, who soon grappled with and cuffed the distraught 45-year-old, then shackled her to a bench in an airport holding area Friday.

Less than an hour later, Carol Anne Gotbaum was dead, apparently strangled by the 16-inch chain used to hook her handcuffs to the bench.

Cops say she appeared to have gotten tangled up trying to shift the cuffs from back to front.

Gotbaum's family has hired famed forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht to perform a second autopsy after the official one conducted yesterday. No cause of death was released pending toxicology reports.

After about three years of trouble with alcohol, Gotbaum, who was married to a son of longtime New York labor leader Victor Gotbaum and his former wife, had agreed the day before to enroll in the month-long Cottonwood program.

Others familiar with Carol Anne Gotbaum's history said she had longstanding mental health issues. Gotbaum attempted suicide twice in the past year, they said. She had also tried a brief detox program last fall at Manhattan's St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, but it did not work.

Gotbaum was sober on the flight from Manhattan to Phoenix, but a friend who was supposed to meet her at the terminal for the last leg to Tucson failed to show, sources said.

She had lunch solo at the terminal, got drunk and didn't hear her connecting flight being called for Tucson, airline workers said.

She was jittery as she went through security and was pulled aside to be patted down, a witness said. Gotbaum said, "I have to get my flight. I'm late for my flight," the witness said.

She arrived at the gate just eight minutes before the plane was supposed to leave and was turned away.

Phoenix police said they soon had to subdue the distraught woman, whom witnesses heard shout, "I'm not a terrorist! I'm a sick mom!"

Gotbaum family lawyer Michael Manning of Phoenix said she could have been unsupervised as long as 30 minutes. A police spokesman said she was unsupervised no more than five to 10 minutes in the holding cell.

Family members were racked with guilt for letting her travel alone, sources said.

Exactly. Sad to say, that is my exact question: why was she allowed to travel alone? There will be plenty of blame to go around, based on what the NY Daily News reports. We now know that the airline was alerted to the fact that Mrs. Gotbaum was suffering from several medical conditions, and their response was to allow the police to wrestle the distraught woman down, cuff her and drag her away. Certainly airline personnel never witnessed Mrs. Gotbaum receiving any medical assistance. Were they obligated to make sure that the police knew of her condition? Did they do anything in that regard? Did they respond when they observed that Mrs. Gotbaum was being treated as though she was responsible for her actions? Important questions.

All of which would be completely unnecessary if somebody - anybody - had traveled with Mrs. Gotbaum. "Wracked with guilt"? I should say, to say the very least. Here is a very unstable woman who is fighting with all her strength to make one last go of getting her life back together, and she is sent to rehab on a connecting flight to the southwest corner of the country. It is sad but predictable to note that she drank during lunch. Most likely she was enjoying "one last round" before committing herself to sobriety. She would not have had those drinks if she was with family; she would not have been late to her plane; she would not have been refused boarding; she would not be dead.

That's a whole lot of guilt.

(Oct 4, 2007, 13:52 EDT) Today we have a fuller description from the police, who also promise to produce corroborating video soon. The NY Daily News reports:
Phoenix cops said Wednesday they did all they could to save a New York woman who died in their custody last week - including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

In their most in-depth explanation to date, Phoenix police said officers followed proper procedures when they arrested a "loud and uncooperative" Carol Anne Gotbaum, 45, the daughter-in-law of city Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, at Sky Harbor International Airport on Friday.

When Gotbaum was found unconscious 40 minutes later, with the chain used to secure her handcuff to the holding room bench pressed against her neck, officers went to heroic measures to try to revive her, police said.

"The officers began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR," said Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill. Gotbaum began vomiting while the officers were trying to revive her, but CPR and efforts to resuscitate her continued.

Phoenix police got their first call of a problem passenger at 2:49 p.m., after Gotbaum hurled her personal digital assistant, "just missing a citizen," Hill said.

Gotbaum had become angry when told she was too late to board a connecting flight to Tucson and a 30-day alcohol treatment program.

Two cops tried to arrest her at 2:53 p.m., but she resisted. A third officer arrived and they grappled the 105-pound Gotbaum to the floor, handcuffed her from behind and half-carried her to the holding room.

"No one got hurt," Hill said.

The officers then further restrained Gotbaum with a 16-inch metal chain with a large handcuff on each end. One cuff was attached to an eyehook on the holding room bench. The other was fastened to the chain of the handcuffs already on her hands.

Police did not consider her a danger to herself or others, so they left her in the room by herself. When Gotbaum fell silent, six to eight minutes later, cops checked and found she "had somehow worked the handcuffs to the front of her body, probably from under her legs, and had pulled the chain from the shackle across her neck area," Hill said.

The mother of three was declared dead at 3:29 p.m.

The Phoenix medical examiner has not determined the cause of death, pending toxicology tests. Gotbaum's family paid for an independent autopsy Tuesday, but the medical examiner withheld key organs - Gotbaum's heart, brain and throat muscles.

"The police claim she somehow strangled on the chains used to tie her to a bench. And then the medical examiner somehow can't provide the poor woman's throat muscles? It is appalling," a family friend said.

A spokeswoman for the Maricopa County medical examiner declined to comment.

The NY Times adds a wrinkle: Mrs. Gotbaum could have taken a direct flight to Tempe.
Ms. Gotbaum, 45, the stepdaughter-in-law of New York City’s public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, was originally scheduled to fly directly to Tucson for an alcohol rehabilitation program. But Ms. Gotbaum, who lived on the Upper West Side, delayed her flight because she wanted to say goodbye to her three children, two of whom were attending a new grammar school.

The change meant a connection through the busy Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Her husband, Noah, was apparently comfortable letting her fly alone because she was to meet a couple she knew at a stopover in Phoenix, the family said.

But Ms. Gotbaum arrived too late to make the connecting flight to Tucson, the family’s lawyer, Michael C. Manning, said.

The Arizona Republic has a rather complete recap of what is known so far, in a long story in today's edition.

The police chronology describes the last 40 minutes of Carol Gotbaum's life. Although the account contains scant new information, it includes details supporting police assertions that the arrest was handled properly.

At the same time, the family's legal team raised a number of questions about the handling of the 45-year-old woman's body.

"They didn't give us the complete body," complained Phoenix lawyer Michael Manning, who represents Gotbaum's husband, Noah. "They wouldn't give us the neck, the brain and the heart."

Manning said the organs were important to a second forensic examination conducted privately Tuesday by Dr. Cyril Wecht, a pathologist hired by the Gotbaums. Manning said Wecht conducted his autopsy with the partial body.

Neither Wecht nor the county Medical Examiner's Office have reported findings as to a cause of death. No one from the office could be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

I have some concern over the integrity of the autopsy and of the investigation in general.

We know that in all likelihood Mrs. Gotbaum had "some drinks" prior to the incident. It would not be rash to speculate that it was more than a few. This was an alcoholic on her way to rehab, alone in a large airport. She was almost certainly very anxious, as later events would seem to indicate.

We also now know that a person who was "unconscious and not breathing" somehow managed to vomit into the mouth of a police officer giving mouth-to-mouth. This would seem to indicate that the food was already in her airway, unless it is possible to vomit while unconscious. If the food was already in the airway, could it not have contributed to her death? Perhaps in the effort to extract herself from her position, she placed pressure on her abdomen and caused some sort of reflux, and began to gag. If so, the evidence of that would have been tampered with, by the very act of attempting to save Mrs. Gotbaum's life.

Would an experienced EMT have known to make sure the airway was clear? In all probability, and we would also then know if there was an obstruction at the time.

The lack of an EMT presence - from the beginning of the incident, when Mrs. Gotbaum was clearly distraught - is, to me, the glaring issue at this time.