Psychiatri­st: Army must ‘man up’ over killings

Blames addiction program for tragedy

- Gregg Zoroya USA TODAY

Army psychiatri­st Patrick Lillard still anguishes over that night four years ago, when a drunken soldier shot to death a sheriff ’s deputy along a shoulder of an expressway outside this base and then turned the assault rifle on himself.

Now Lillard has made an extraordin­ary decision to speak out about the case: If only the Army had listened to him, Spc. Christophe­r Hodges would have been in a hospital for alcohol addiction and two lives could have been saved.

Twice before the shootings, Lillard urged that Hodges, 26, an Iraq War veteran, receive at least a month of intensive treatment. Twice his recommenda­tions were ignored by an Army substancea­buse program that allows officers without a medical background to overrule a doctor.

“Two people died, and it could have been prevented,” Lillard told USA TODAY. He called on the military to “step up — ‘man up,’ as they say in the Army — and admit this was a tragic mistake, or error,

“Two people died, and it could have been prevented. ... Take responsibi­lity. ... And make sure it does not happen again.”

Army psychiatri­st Patrick Lillard

or whatever word they want to use. Take responsibi­lity. Explain in plain language to the family of Christophe­r Hodges and the police officer and make sure it does not happen again.”

USA TODAY reported in March that the Army’s substance abuse program is in disarray, with thousands of soldiers turned away from needed treatment, dozens of suicides linked to poor care and too few qualified counselors. The Army responded to the story by ordering an ongoing investigat­ion of all 54 substance abuse outpatient clinics.

Lillard, 74, said he chose to speak out about the Hodges case after USA TODAY’s report in hopes that other lives won’t be lost because soldiers are denied substance abuse treatment.

Hodges’ parents and widow agreed to waive privacy protection­s to allow the story to be told for the first time.

Lillard resigned from the Army, effective Friday, at least in part over disagreeme­nts with the way patient care is handled.

In a statement, the Army said officials did everything they could to support Hodges “through an outpatient program that included ... abstinence from alcohol, mandatory urinalysis and breathalyz­er testing, compliance with appointmen­ts and interventi­on such as attending weekly group counseling sessions (and) individual therapy sessions.” The soldier also was sent to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and alcohol-abuse prevention training.

The Army emphasized that Hodges did not want hospitaliz­ation if it interfered with this training. However, soldiers can be compelled to undergo Army-supported treatment under penalty of separation from the service, Lillard said.

A SHOCKING KILLING The early morning tragedy on Oct. 23, 2011, shook neighborin­g Augusta, where The Augusta

Chronicle said in an editorial that the deputy’s killing was “pure evil” and demanded the military explain how such a thing could happen.

In the months leading up to the shooting, Hodges was in weekly therapy at a substancea­buse outpatient clinic at Fort Gordon, according to medical records. But Lillard, acting director of intensive inpatient addiction care at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center at the base, said the soldier needed more than outpatient therapy. He needed hospitaliz­ation and close scrutiny.

USA TODAY reported in March that the majority of Army outpatient clinics are operating far below profession­al standards for treating drug and alcohol abuse. But the Fort Gordon clinic is among a small number that are rated the best, according to an internal assessment by the Army’s senior substance-abuse counselors.

Substance abuse counselors there uncovered much about what was troubling Hodges, an aviation operations specialist and Augusta native who was raised in a deeply religious Army family where everyone served, including his mom and dad.

Hodges wanted help for his alcoholism, telling therapists he was a hard drinker since age 14 and that alcohol abuse led to a perforated ulcer and emergency surgery at Fort Gordon in July 2011. Seven weeks before the shooting, the aspiring rapper showed his counselors a poetic prayer he had written that was titled, “So Scared.” It read in part, “How can I lead people to Jesus, when I’m throwin’ up in the sink. ... If I turn my back on (God), Satan will give me everything I’ve hoped for. I don’t want that.”

Lillard met with Hodges in August 2011 and noted that the soldier “appreciate­s he is into very serious health consequenc­es with his alcohol use and is willing to do whatever is necessary. The very strong recommenda­tion is (hospitaliz­ation).”

A month later, after Hodges relapsed, Lillard saw him again. “(He) must go to a higher level of care and he is (in) very high risk for relapse and in danger for his physical health as well,” the doctor said in his notes.

But Hodges’ company commander, Capt. Heath Mullins, would not allow it. Mullins later told an investigat­or that his decision stemmed from the fact that Hodges was a member of the Tennessee National Guard and only temporaril­y on active duty while attending air-traffic control training at Fort Gordon. Mullins said he thought Hodges would return to the National Guard before hospitaliz­ation could begin.

“I would have to contact the State of Tennessee for their recommenda­tion and plan of action,” he said in a sworn statement. There was no indication he tried to do so. Mullins, now a major in the Army, could not be reached for comment.

Lillard said he would have hospitaliz­ed Hodges immediatel­y. “I’m convinced this (tragedy) wouldn’t have happened,” the doctor says. “I’ll go to my grave believing that.”

A TROUBLED SOLDIER The depth of Hodges’ distress was discovered by investigat­ors after the shootings: how he was consumed with financial and emotional pressure going through a divorce; how family and friends were certain he suffered posttrauma­tic stress disorder following 15 months in Iraq at the height of that war; how he fantasized in journals about suicide and tasting “the cold steel of the barrel” in his mouth; and how he always kept close at hand an assault rifle that he had purchased.

All of it boiled over on a crisp autumn night with Hodges at the wheel of his 2004 Cadillac DeVille. according to police reports. He’d been drinking malt liquor, Jägermeist­er and Red Bull all night, and was bickering with his girlfriend, Raven Harper, about his intoxicati­on — and the volume on the radio.

Hodges swerved off the expressway onto the grass, where the violence escalated, according to a report, based on what Harper told police and a recording of Harper’s 911 call.

She scrambled out of the car shoeless, a white, diamondsha­ped earring flying into the grass. He circled the car slowly, bumping her before stopping perpendicu­lar to the freeway. She called 911. He yelled for her to get back in the car.

“All I know is that he’s like very intoxicate­d and I don’t know what his next move is,” she told the dispatcher. “He has been overseas a couple of times and I just think that when he becomes like under the influence ... he’s just back there.”

As vehicles sped by, Hodges retrieved a rifle from the trunk. Harper thought she heard him praying, then fired two or three rounds at a time in the direction of passing cars, as she grew frantic.

Between her sobs and his gunfire, she pleaded into her phone, “Please send that car. Can somebody please come get me?”

Then there was a hail of gunfire, and Harper ran down the road screaming that a policeman had been shot.

DEPUTY STRUCK 9 TIMES Richmond County Sheriff ’s Deputy James “J.D.” Paugh, 47, was working traffic control at the county fairground­s that night. Divorced, he loved being a motorcycle officer and the trappings it offered in a city defined by the Masters golf tournament each year.

“He could go anywhere he wanted,” said his older brother, Robert, “and it also allowed him to help people. He was really there just to serve.”

As he headed home in the dark that Sunday, he spotted the Cadillac in the grass. “J.D. probably thought it was a stranded motorist that needed some kind of assistance,” Robert Paugh said.

Before J.D. Paugh could drop the kickstand on his police Harley-Davidson Road King, Hodges opened fire. Rounds struck the motorcycle windshield, grazed Paugh’s helmet, shot away his microphone and drilled into the motor cylinder. The deputy was struck again and again. He somehow managed to pull his pistol and get off two or three shots, one bullet passing through Hodges’ right forearm. At one point, Harper saw the officer crawling on the ground.

Hodges emptied a 30-round magazine, slammed in another, and nearly emptied that one. He had three bullets left when he turned the rifle around, placed the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

In all, Paugh was struck nine times, including through the heart. He was dead by the time officers arrived.

A foundation later establishe­d to honor the dead officer has raised nearly $200,000 to purchase safety equipment for area police department­s. The motorcade that followed his casket the day he was buried stretched through Augusta for several miles.

“It’s a damn shame,” said an emotional Robert Paugh, after learning that psychiatri­st Lillard had twice urged a lengthy hospitaliz­ation for Hodges before the shooting. “To think that my brother could be alive today.”

PARENTS BLAST ARMY BRASS Lillard said that when he read the next morning about the deaths “I was angry to being tearful.”

Last month, Christophe­r Hodges’ parents, Fred and Elisia, met with Lillard and his wife, Nina, in Augusta for lunch. The doctor explained in detail how their son had tried so hard to get help.

Fred Hodges is a chief warrant officer class 4 in the Army. He and his wife said they took some solace from Lillard’s words. “Because now I know at least (Christophe­r) was seeking the proper help, like I’ve always asked him to do,” the father said, “and unfortunat­ely the leadership and some of the policies and processes did not support him fully.”

The Army colonel investigat­ing the Hodges case in 2011 recommende­d that, in the future, if a psychiatri­st’s recommenda­tion is overruled, the matter be taken up for higher medical and command review. The family later received a copy of that investigat­ion. But that recommenda­tion was blacked out.

There was no word from the Army on whether the policy change was ever implemente­d, but there is little evidence attitudes have changed.

In late April, commanders at Fort Gordon initially objected to enrolling a soldier into outpatient substance abuse care, despite the fact that she had fallen into a coma after a deadly mixture of alcohol and sedative medication, Lillard said. Under persistent pressure from addiction specialist­s, her command finally relented.

Lillard said the Army still looks upon the hard-drinking soldier as a tough stereotype, a problem that can be handled chiefly through discipline. “It’s still not accepted that we’re dealing with medical problems,” he said, “with real disease and illnesses.”

 ?? KELLY CREEDON FOR USA TODAY ?? Christophe­r Hodges, Fred and Elisia Hodges’ son, was part of the Army Substance Abuse Program at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga. In 2011, he ended up on an expressway in Augusta, shooting at cars. He eventually killed a police officer and then himself.
KELLY CREEDON FOR USA TODAY Christophe­r Hodges, Fred and Elisia Hodges’ son, was part of the Army Substance Abuse Program at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga. In 2011, he ended up on an expressway in Augusta, shooting at cars. He eventually killed a police officer and then himself.
 ?? RICHMOND COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE FILE PHOTO ?? A violent exchange in 2011 between Spc. Christophe­r Hodges and Richmond County Sheriff ’s Deputy James “J.D.” Paugh left both dead alongside this Augusta, Ga., expressway.
RICHMOND COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE FILE PHOTO A violent exchange in 2011 between Spc. Christophe­r Hodges and Richmond County Sheriff ’s Deputy James “J.D.” Paugh left both dead alongside this Augusta, Ga., expressway.
 ?? DARYL BJORAAS, USA TODAY ?? Lillard has resigned his post.
DARYL BJORAAS, USA TODAY Lillard has resigned his post.

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