Originally Published Wednesday, August 22, 2001
* To reach Lodi Bureau Chief Jeff Hood, phone 367-7427 or e-mail jhood@recordnet.com

 

Crash killed Wendland, coroner's office rules

By Jeff Hood*
Lodi Bureau Chief

Although a "horrible" infection from bronchial pneumonia killed Robert Wendland last month, the 1993 auto accident that left him incapacitated was the ultimate cause of his death, Sgt. Bill Isaacs of the San Joaquin County Coroner's Office said Tuesday.

Wendland, who died July 17 at Lodi Memorial Hospital, was the center of a national debate over the right of a conservator to end life-sustaining treatment to someone who was barely conscious. He had been unable to talk, feed or care for himself since driving drunk and rolling his pickup on the Interstate 5 onramp at Highway 12.

Isaacs said Wendland was being treated with morphine for pain and to ease his agitation, but toxicology tests received Tuesday showed those levels were typical for someone in his condition. No other drugs were found, Isaacs said, adding his office considers the case closed.

"(The infection) overwhelmed him, and that was why he died," Isaacs said. "He wasn't going to heal, because he couldn't move. It is an accidental death, and it is related to his pickup overturning."

Although Wendland had already died, the California Supreme Court ruled Aug. 9 that treatment can't be withdrawn unless a patient has left formal instructions of his or her wishes. Wendland had not done so.

In 1995, Wendland's wife, Rose, had asked San Joaquin County Superior Court to support her efforts to withhold nutrition and fluids because her husband would not want to live in that condition. But Wendland's mother, Florence, won the legal battle for continued treatment.

Wendland's condition began deteriorating about the same time the California Supreme Court heard his case May 30.