A Rowland Heights osteopathic doctor was ordered today to stand trial on murder and more than 20 other charges stemming from the prescription-drug-overdose deaths of three men.
Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, 42, of Walnut, is charged with three counts of second- degree murder for the deaths of Vu Nguyen of Lake Forest and Steven Ogle of Palm Desert, both 25, and Joseph Rovero III, a 21-year-old Arizona State University student from San Ramon, between March 2009 and December 2009.
She is also charged with 20 counts of unlawful controlled substance prescription and one count of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Those charges involve other patients and three undercover agents who went to Advance Care AAA Medical Group, the clinic where Tseng practiced.
Following a hearing that stretched on for just over three weeks, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Villar de Longoria found sufficient evidence to require Tseng to proceed to trial and ordered her to remain jailed on $3 million bail while awaiting arraignment July 10.
The judge noted that she had heard testimony that Tseng referred to her patients as "druggies," that patients secured prescriptions for major narcotics without even a cursory examination and that Tseng failed to cut off prescriptions to certain patients who had exhibited drug-seeking behavior.
The judge said the testimony also showed that Tseng "failed to heed repeated red flag warnings" and prior notice that "young, vibrant patients were dying of overdoses" and that she was a "substantial factor" in the deaths of the three young men, concluding that she "used her prescription pad to (cause) irreparable harm."
Deputy District Attorney John Niedermann told the judge that Tseng had previously been notified about the deaths of three other male patients in their 20s -- Matthew Stavron, Ryan Latham and Naythan Kenney -- between September 2007 and September 2008, noting that 12 of her patients died in less than three years.
"It's the notice," the prosecutor said. "It's the appreciation of the risk."
Niedermann noted that there were "red flags" and that medical experts called by the prosecution concluded that there were "multiple extreme departures" from the standard of care involving some of Tseng's patients.
One of Tseng's attorneys, T. Edward Welbourn, countered that the prosecution was trying to hold Tseng to "a standard of having a crystal ball" to predict what her patients might do and that her patients had made a willful choice not to follow Tseng's instructions involving the medication. Another of her attorneys, Donald B. Marks, told the judge, "She did not merely sell prescriptions in her office." Marks said his client had treated her patients in good faith and decreased the amount of medication some patients were being prescribed.
Outside court, Kenney's mother -- who wore a large photo button with her son's picture -- said she felt that "justice has been served so far."
One of Tseng's attorneys said the defense expects to file a motion asking another judge to consider the sufficiency of the evidence against his client.
"She's ready to continue the battle," defense lawyer Allan H. Stokke said of his client, who agreed in February to surrender her license as an osteopathic physician, effective March 14.
- Story by Terri Vermeulen Keith, City News Service