3/13/97 -- 10:45 PM

Church of Scientology denies allegations

By CHERYL WALDRIP of The Tampa Tribune


CLEARWATER - The Church of Scientology has denied in court documents virtually every allegation contained in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of church member Lisa McPherson.

The lawsuit alleges that McPherson, a 36-year-old Clearwater resident, was held against her will in isolation at Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater.

During her 17-day stay, McPherson slipped into a coma, the lawsuit says, and it alleges that Scientology personnel intentionally and maliciously failed to get medical help for her.

Despite her obvious and urgent medical needs, the lawsuit says, the church bypassed nearby Morton Plant Hospital and took McPherson 20 miles away to Columbia/HCA New Port Richey hospital for treatment by a Scientologist physician.

She arrived dead at the hospital on Dec. 5, 1995.

An autopsy report shows McPherson died of a blood clot brought on by ``severe dehydration'' and bed rest. The church disputes those findings.

In papers filed Wednesday, the church's attorneys responded to virtually every paragraph in the lawsuit filed by Tampa attorney Ken Dandar with one word: ``denied.''

The church admits McPherson was a Clearwater resident and that it is being sued over her death. Church attorneys say a church member observed that her vehicle was involved in a car accident Nov. 18.

She was taken to Morton Plant Hospital after the accident, according to hospital records. Church attorneys say McPherson was driven from the hospital to the former Fort Harrison Hotel by a church member.

The church denies all of the other allegations. Scientology attorney Morris Weinberg could not be reached for comment Thursday.

On Nov. 18, 1995, a motorcycle accident in downtown Clearwater stalled traffic. McPherson drove her Jeep Cherokee into the back of a vehicle that was stopped in traffic, police say. McPherson was not injured, according to police, medical records and the lawsuit.

Police have said she got out of the vehicle, took off her clothes and appeared to paramedics to be mentally distressed.

The lawsuit says McPherson had a fixed stare and said: ``I need help, I need to talk to someone.'' Paramedics took her to Morton Plant for evaluation.

The lawsuit says Scientologists arrived at the hospital, which released her reluctantly, and persuaded her to go with them to the Fort Harrison. The church denied those allegations in its court documents.

McPherson's death remains under investigation by Clearwater police, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office and the Medical Examiner's Office.


return to coverage page