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The day before he apparently stabbed his father at the family's home in rural Bath County, the son of Virginia state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds underwent a psychiatric evaluation but was not admitted to a hospital, because no bed was available.
Deeds was listed in fair condition late Tuesday after his son, Austin, stabbed him in the face and chest, then shot himself in what investigators suspect was an attempted murder and suicide.
The incident thrust the senator back into the spotlight after several years of quiet. Deeds (D) vaulted to the statewide political stage in 2009 as the Democratic nominee for governor, only to lose to Republican Robert F. McDonnell (R). After the defeat, Deeds went through a divorce and largely receded from public view, even though he stayed on in the Senate.
The violence also culminated what appears to have been a downward spiral for Deeds's son, Austin, 24, a banjo-playing former campaign volunteer for his father who dropped out of college last month and whose apparent psychiatric problems had prompted an examination Monday.
The attack on the senator brought new scrutiny to Virginias mental-health system. Six years after the Virginia Tech massacre, which prompted an outpouring of attention and dollars for state mental-health care, advocates still say the system is starved for money and reform. Lawmakers, state officials and mental-health advocates expressed agreement Tuesday that a shortage of beds for patients in crisis is one significant problem.
On Monday, a magistrate issued an emergency custody order for Austin Deeds, who was also known as Gus, after he had been evaluated by officials at the Rockbridge County Community Services Board, said Mary Ann Bergeron, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards. The boards oversee the local provision of mental-health services across Virginia.
Dennis Cropper, who leads the Rockbridge County Community Services Board, also confirmed the younger Deeds's psychiatric evaluation, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Rockbridge officials had called hospitals in the area looking for a spot but were unable to find one, Bergeron said. "I can tell you right now, it was multiple hospitals that they called," she said. "That is a very rural area. The hospitals are few and far between."
Bergeron said local hospitals have been reducing and in some cases eliminating psychiatric wards, making it more difficult to find spots for people requiring involuntary detention, particularly in more rural parts of the state.
"I wouldn't say this happens every day, but it's more common than we'd like for it to be," Bergeron said.
State investigators said Tuesday that they were still trying to establish a motive and the sequence of events that led to the violence, which they said appeared to begin with an altercation between the men.
After his son attacked him, Deeds, bleeding from his face and chest, walked to the end of his driveway in Bath County, about 100 miles west of Charlottesville, police said. A cousin driving by spotted him, called police at 7:25 a.m., then drove him to a nearby farm. A helicopter flew the senator to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, where doctors performed surgery.