PALMER -- A drug user infected with hepatitis C was charged Tuesday with attempted murder for spitting on an emergency-room nurse who was trying to prevent him from killing himself, according to charges filed in Palmer District Court.
The attempted second-degree murder charge was later reduced in court to felony and misdemeanor assault.
The man, Andre L. LaFrance, 29, of Wasilla, was also charged with harassment.
He was being held Tuesday in solitary confinement at the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility in Palmer where he was on suicide watch, a state corrections official told the Associated Press.
According to a sworn statement by Alaska State Trooper Ryan Mattingley, LaFrance was initially admitted to the emergency room at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center late Sunday evening because of a drug overdose. Mattingley didn't identify the drug.
LaFrance was treated and released. He returned to the emergency room Monday, again complaining of a drug overdose. This time, the emergency room staff determined he had not overdosed and attempted to release him, Mattingley said.
"Andre then claimed to be suicidal and wanted to hurt or kill himself," Mattingley said. "Staff was attempting to restrain him until troopers could arrive. Andre stated he would spit on the staff if placed in restraints."
A nurse managed to get LaFrance in restraints. LaFrance did what he had threatened: He spit in her face, Mattingley said.
Mattingley said LaFrance knew he carried hepatitis C. Mattingley said the state's crime computer recorded that LaFrance had told other troopers he had the disease, a sometimes-incurable blood-borne virus that can lead to liver diseases, including cancer. There's no vaccine for hepatitis C.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the virus is most often spread through intravenous drug use, though medical personnel sometimes contract it through accidental needle sticks. The CDC doesn't consider saliva a major risk factor in spreading the disease.
The CDC says about 3.2 million Americans are infected.
The nurse spat upon by LaFrance also knew that he carried the disease and was concerned she could contract it through her eyes, Mattingley said. The trooper said she was being tested for the disease.
Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist, said the virus may be found in the saliva of some infected people, but the risk of spreading it to another person through their eyes "is extremely low."
The hospital had no comment Tuesday evening.
The initial charge of attempted second-degree murder said LaFrance had taken "a substantial step" toward killing his victim. When reduced to third-degree assault, a felony, the charge accused LaFrance of recklessly placing the nurse in fear of imminent serious physical injury "by means of a dangerous instrument, to wit: saliva."
The harassment charge accused him of engaging in "offensive physical contact" and the misdemeanor assault charge said he used "words or other conduct" to place another person in fear of injury.
At the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility, Corrections Sgt. Walter Erickson said Tuesday that LaFrance is "very, very unstable."
Find Richard Mauer online at adn.com/contact/rmauer or call 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER