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Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Psychiatric patient - Told doctors that the people he attacked looked like animals and monsters and he had to attack them to defend himself
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: April 8, 2001
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1967
Victims profile: Alda Ellington, 47 (nurse) / Jack Dexter, 74, Truman Davidson, 87, and Everett Stoneking, 87 (patients)
Method of murder: Beating to death with his fists
Location: Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA
Status: Found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a state mental hospital on June 11, 2002

On early morning April 10, 2001, Alberto Serrano patient at the former Savannas Hospital, attacked several people, killing one woman instantly and injuring three others who died over the next three days.

Serrano reportedly told doctors that the people he attacked looked like animals and monsters and he had to attack them to defend himself. On June 11, 2002, Serrano was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a state mental hospital.


Alberto Serrano

May 9, 2001 

A psychiatric patient in Port St. Lucie was indicted on four counts of first-degree murder for violently rampaging through a hospital.

The suspect, 6-foot-2, 230-pound Alberto Serrano was also indicted on two counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of robbery. Attorney Mark Harlee said Serrano, a professional wrestler hopeful, was incompetent to stand trial.

Serrano was sent to Savannas Hospital on April 10 under a state law allowing officials to involuntarily commit people who are a danger to themselves or others.

According to a St. Lucie County sheriff's report, nurse Alda Ellington was left alone with Serrano who proceeded to beat her to death. Then he assaulted five elderly patients sleeping in their rooms. Three later died.


Injuries undetected for days after St. Lucie hospital killing

By Amanda Riddle -

April 18, 2001

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - A mental patient who wanted to be a professional wrestler beat a nurse to death as he was being checked into a psychiatric hospital, then fatally attacked at least three elderly patients in their beds, breaking their spines, authorities say.

The first of the three elderly patients died the day after the attacks on April 10 but hospital officials originally attributed his death to advanced stages of cancer.

The other two languished for up to four days before they died and officials realized they were also victims of the rampage.

Autopsies concluded Jack Dexter, 74, Truman Davidson and Everett Stoneking, both 87, were beaten to death. Their injuries, revealed only by autopsy, included multiple blunt trauma, broken necks and backs.

The nurse, 47-year-old Alda Ellington, was beaten on the face and neck and found in a pool of blood shortly after she was attacked, according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office.

The suspect, 6-foot-2, 230 pound Alberto Serrano is being held without bond in a medical cell at the county jail.

Authorities say Serrano, 33, went on the unprovoked rampage while being checked in at Savannas Hospital and Treatment Center in Port St. Lucie after earlier unprovoked attacks elsewhere.

Two women patients were also attacked. They lay in their beds with bloody faces and were not discovered until the nurse was treated at the scene and taken to a hospital where she died.

Dexter, the first patient to die, was taken to a Stuart funeral home and no autopsy was planned because it was assumed he was a cancer victim.

Davidson's death last Saturday initially was attributed to respiratory problems. But after his death, investigators decided to do an autopsy on Davidson and Dexter, who had not yet been buried.

Those autopsies revealed the extent of the murderous rampage.

Savannas Hospital spokeswoman Sharon Grayson said the rest of the patients in the ward that night were examined by outside doctors this week. No other injuries were found.

She said the hospital would release a statement later this week.

"It's obviously a difficult time for all of us and our interests right now are taking care of our patients and their families," Grayson said.

No one would say how many patients were in the ward at the time of the attacks.

"We are looking at all the circumstances relating to the deaths," said sheriff's spokesman Mark Weinberg.

The attorney for Raymond Scott, husband of patient Elizabeth Scott who was injured in the attack, said he may sue, contending the hospital did not do enough to protect patients, most whom are elderly, frail and medicated.

"They are woefully understaffed," said lawyer Evan Fetterman. "They have no proper security procedures at intake. ... They can't leave a nurse and one orderly in charge of the whole hospital."

"They are required to do what is reasonable under all circumstances," he said. "What they have done is not reasonable."

According to the sheriff's office report, Serrano was being admitted to Savannas when an orderly left him alone with Ellington, a nurse for 25 years, while he responded to a disturbance in another part of the building.

Police said Serrano beat the nurse with his fists.

The evening before the attack, Serrano's girlfriend, Nidia Pena, told police she found him in his bathroom with a knife and took him to Martin Memorial Center. A doctor sent him to nearby Savannas under the Baker Act, a state law that allows officials to admit patients involuntarily to a psychiatric facility for three days if they are a threat to themselves or others.

He had been arrested four days before the attack on a misdemeanor battery charge for punching a stranger in the waiting room at a Fort Pierce mental health center. He was taken to jail and released the same day after his girlfriend posted $500 bond.

Prosecutors plan to file first-degree murder charges against Serrano in the deaths of Stoneking, Dexter and Davidson. He is already charged in the death of nurse Alda Ellington, 47, and for assaulting Olive Simpson, 75, and Scott, 64.

A psychiatric evaluation found him incompetent, his public defender Mark Harllee said. He faces another evaluation and a hearing to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.


St. Lucie mental patient kills nurse, injures two patients

Associated Press

April 10, 2001

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - A psychiatric hospital nurse was beaten to death and two elderly patients were injured early Tuesday in an attack by a man who was being checked in, authorities said.

Alberto Serrano, 33, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Alda Ellington, 47, a nurse at the private Savannas Hospital.

Serrano also was charged with two counts of attempted murder in the beatings of two female patients. One, 75-year-old Olive Simpson of Wellington, was in critical condition at St. Lucie Medical Center. The other patient, 64-year-old Elizabeth Scott of Port St. Lucie, was treated and released back to the mental facility.

"I was shocked because I thought she was safe in a situation like that," said Elizabeth's husband Raymond Scott. "I felt so good that she was secure. Undoubtedly she wasn't."

In a separate incident, Serrano was arrested last Friday on a misdemeanor battery charge for punching a man in the face and back in the waiting room at New Horizons mental health center in Fort Pierce. He was released from the St. Lucie County Jail the same day on $500 bond.

Serrano's girlfriend, Nidia Pena, said he was taken to New Horizons by police after attacking on his family in the middle of the night.

"Not again," she told police when she learned of the latest incident. "He just did this at New Horizons and was arrested for battery two days ago."

While being processed, Serrano was alone with Ellington when he attacked and beat her to death at about 2 a.m., said Mark Weinberg, spokesman for the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office. Serrano then attacked the patients, whose rooms were nearby, he said.

Ellington was found unconscious lying in a pool of blood. Simpson and Smith were lying in their beds with bloody faces.

"With his own bare hands and with no apparent provocation he committed these acts," Weinberg said. "We do not know of any precipitating factors."

Serrano was brought to Savannas after voluntarily admitting himself into the emergency room of Martin Memorial Medical Center in nearby Stuart at about 12:30 a.m., said hospital spokeswoman Pat Austin.

He was taken to Savannas under the Baker Act, which requires a person determined to be a threat to others to spend three days in a psychiatric facility for an evaluation, Weinberg said.

Serrano was arrested without incident after deputies found him sitting in a chair outside the building. He was drenched in water and his hands were swollen and cut. Detectives believe he may have washed himself in a pond on the property after the alleged attacks, the report said.

He was taken back to the county jail, where he was being held without bond in a medical cell until a Wednesday morning court appearance. He talked about the attacks during an interview with detectives after his arrest, Weinberg said.


Mental patient kills nurse, police say

By Colleen Mastony - Palm Beach Post

Wednesday, April 11, 2001

PORT ST. LUCIE -- A mental patient who said he was sent by God to rid the world of bad people is accused of beating a nurse to death with his fists and injuring two other patients as he was being involuntarily committed to a hospital early Tuesday.

An orderly said he had left nurse Alda Ellington, 47, alone with Alberto Serrano, 34, of Stuart after being called away to quiet a disturbance in another part of Savannas Hospital & Treatment Center.

When the orderly left, Serrano was calmly eating a tuna fish sandwich. Ten minutes later another nurse saw him wandering the hallways. The orderly returned and found Ellington in a pool of blood inside the ward for severely disturbed patients.

Serrano was. charged with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder and is being held without bail at the St. Lucie County jail.

In a separate incident three days before, Serrano had punched a patient unprovoked while in the waiting room of a different psychiatric hospital, New Horizons in St. Lucie County, while he was waiting to be admitted there, according to a St. Lucie County Sheriff's report. Deputies arrested him on a misdemeanor charge of battery but released him the next day on $500 bond.

Ellington had stopped breathing by the time paramedics arrived at Savannas at 2:45 a.m. She sustained head injuries and died at the scene, according to paramedics. After the rescue crew left with Ellington, a staff member discovered two elderly patients had been beaten while sleeping in their unlocked rooms.

Olive Simpson, 75, of Wellington was in critical condition at St. Lucie Medical Center Tuesday night. Elizabeth Scott, 64, of Port St. Lucie, was treated at the St. Lucie Medical Center for a broken nose and released back to Savannas

Deputies found Serrano, 34, of 2917 Delmar Ave., soaking wet and quietly sitting in a chair outside the hospital. He had jumped in a nearby pond after the attack.

Serrano answered basic questions and gave police his name and age in a low, unwavering voice. Asked what happened, he said, "I don't know." His swollen hands had deep cuts on the knuckles.

Though he later confessed, officials were not sure whether that statement would be admissable in court because of questions surrounding his competency. "If he is found to be insane, then you could never prosecute," Assistant State Attorney Lynn Park said at a news conference Tuesday. "Whether they know right from wrong, that's the basic issue."

Police had taken Serrano to New Horizons of the Treasure Coast on Friday, according to Serrano's girlfriend Nadia Pena, 27. Friends in a house where he had been staying called police after Serrano woke them up in the middle of the night, yelling "things from the Bible," preaching to and slapping them, Pena said. The friends refused to press charges, so Serrano was taken to New Horizons, Pena said.

Out to punish 'bad people'

"He always said the same thing," Pena said. "(He said:) 'Don't worry about anything because I'm going to take care of all the bad people in the world' " Bad people were those who "did not follow God's rules . . . like fornicators, child abusers, drug addicts, his wife," Pena said. Serrano was separated from his wife, according to Pena. She had known Serrano for three months.

Pena bailed Serrano out of the St. Lucie jail Saturday after the incident at New Horizons. "He was fine. He was very happy to see me," she said. New Horizons chief operating officer John Romano declined to comment on the incident.

Serrano also seemed fine on Monday when Pena arrived home from work about 8:30 p.m. She drove him back to his apartment and was about to leave when she found him in the bathroom with a knife. "He said, `God is calling me and he wants me to do it,' " Pena said. She took him to Martin Memorial Medical Center about 12:30 a.m.

Doctors there were familiar with him, Pena said, and they decided to transfer him to Savannas Hospital under the Baker Act, which allows officials to involuntarily commit a person who has been determined to be a threat to himself or others.

Pena followed the transport car to Savannas Hospital. When Serrano arrived shortly after 2 a.m., the nurse at the intake station was busy with another patient. She asked orderly James Chambers, 32, to take Serrano back to the intensive treatment ward, Chambers said.

Serrano was calm and cooperative as Chambers led him to the ward, in an isolated section of the hospital, and searched him for weapons, Chambers said. Serrano said he was hungry and Chambers gave him a tuna fish sandwich. "This guy was calm and cool," Chambers said.

Chambers was the only male staff member on-duty that night, he said. Serrano seemed passive, and it seemed safe to leave him with Ellington when Chambers was called to another unit, Chambers said.

About 10 minutes later, another nurse called to report seeing a strange man wandering the halls and trying to unlock the door in another ward. Chambers went to investigate and found Ellington. Serrano had used Ellington's keys to escape the locked ward.

There is no alarm button to signal an emergency on the ward, sheriff's officials said. The ward's heavy doors and isolated location would have prevented anyone from hearing a struggle, Chambers said.

Savannas Hospital, a 70-bed facility owned by Liberty Management Group, released the following statement Tuesday: "We are deeply saddened by the death of a staff member. Mental illness is a devastating, often chronic illness, which requires staff dedication and compassion. This particular staff member had a deep commitment to treating mental health patients and had worked in this field for the last 25 years."

Meanwhile, friends mourned Ellington.

"Alda was the nicest person you ever want to meet," Chambers said. "She was always smiling." A native of Jamaica, she had moved to Port St. Lucie about 12 years ago from New York City. She had worked as a nurse at the Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Fort Pierce until a year ago, when she started working the night shift at Savannas Hospital. She had married in 1993 and divorced in 1997, according to county records. Since then she lived alone. She did not have any children, but kept a wide circle of friends.

Alcohol leads to arrests

Serrano has a criminal history that includes driving under the influence of alcohol in 1998 and 1994, carrying a concealed weapon in 1989, and several traffic violations over the past decade. Reports indicate he was under the influence of alcohol in most cases, and several mention that he was violent either before or after his arrest.

A native of Puerto Rico, he has worked as a carpenter and roofer for more than a dozen years, primarily in Martin County. Friends said he was currently working for Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach.

He was married twice and has an 8-year-old daughter with his second wife, Kimberly, court records show. In 1991, Serrano wrote a letter to a Martin County judge saying he had been hospitalized for mental problems for three months and was experiencing financial problems.

In 1995, after he was charged with violating a probation term stemming from his drunken-driving conviction, Serrano's wife wrote a letter stating her husband had suffered from "mental as well as physical illnesses" which caused him to lose a job.

"Alberto is a very fine and respectable person," his wife, Kimberly, wrote. "He has his faults, but he is a good person. He has never been in any major trouble before."


Police: Error delayed suspect's treatment

By Teresa Lane, Palm Beach Post

April 12, 2001

PORT ST. LUCIE -- Four days before a mental patient fatally beat a nurse at Savannas Hospital, mental health workers at a second facility ignored a "routine procedure" that would have ensured immediate psychiatric care for the patient, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Although police took Alberto Serrano to New Horizons of the Treasure Coast early Friday for treatment, he never received any, records show. A punch to a fellow patient instead meant a trip to the St. Lucie County jail, where Serrano, 33, spent the night on a misdemeanor battery charge before his girlfriend posted $500 bond.

St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office spokesman Mark Weinberg said while it is routine for psychiatric hospitals to place a mental health hold on patients who commit crimes, allowing them to receive treatment after jail, that was not done in Serrano's case. Serrano's estranged wife says he is schizophrenic.

Three days after his jail release, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Serrano began hearing voices again. This time, police say, 47-year-old Savannas Hospital nurse Alda Ellington and two elderly patients were the targets of his fists. Ellington, who was 5-foot-4 and weighed 135 pounds, died of massive head injuries. Olive Simpson, 75, remains in critical condition at St. Lucie Medical Center. Elizabeth Scott, 64, escaped with a broken nose, cut lip and broken dentures.

"We are not a psychiatric organization; we're a criminal justice agency," Weinberg said. "New Horizons is well familiar with the mental health hold procedure, and it has been done many times in the past. I don't know why they didn't in this case."

An employee of New Horizons, a state-supported psychiatric treatment center, said he was unaware of the hold procedure and said his staff prefers to treat violent patients in jail. Unlike Savannas Hospital and a second private, for-profit psychiatric hospital in St. Lucie County, New Horizons can't turn away poor patients.

"I have a non-tolerance procedure for violence," said Ed Stein, director of nursing and emergency services at New Horizons. "If someone is actively assaulting people, I can't put my staff and patients at risk. Our psychiatric staff treats violent people in the jail."

Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Serrano had been admitted to mental hospitals at least 10 times over the past decade, usually because he had stopped taking his medication, said estranged wife Kimberly Serrano, 31. He was sometimes admitted for two weeks at a time to New Horizons, but he had also been admitted to Savannas at least twice, she said. He also had been hospitalized once in Palm Beach County and at least once in his native Puerto Rico.

Serrano was committed to New Horizons under the state's Baker Act Friday after he punched three adults and an 8-year-old girl and kicked down a bedroom door, a police report said. The four were residents of the JCAHO Boulevard home in Port St. Lucie where Serrano was staying in the garage.

He had attacked hospital workers before, his wife said. A bodybuilder with rippling muscles, the former roofer didn't like to take psychiatric medication because it made him tired. Twice he had to be restrained by staff members who were punched while trying to give him medicine, Kimberly Serrano said. Neither incident was so severe it ended in arrest, she said.

"He never hit me or my children," she said.

Although Savannas Hospital has refused to comment on whether staff members followed written procedures in allowing Ellington to interview Serrano alone, another area treatment center said it never allows nurses to be alone with incoming patients. A Savannas nurse on duty during the attack said staff members have complained of lax security, to no avail.

An orderly left the two in a room alone for an initial interview, and a technician who was supposed to assist was on break, said the nurse, who asked that her name not be used.

"Somebody called me over to do CPR (on Ellington) and I couldn't ... I mean, I had to stay at (my) unit," the nurse said. "It was just me. Plus, he (Serrano) was on the loose."

Serrano confessed to attacking the women, saying he "killed the people by breaking their necks and backs and beating them in the face," sheriff's Detective Elmer MCP wrote in a report.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration is investigating the incident. The Department of Children and Families, which state law designates as the "mental health authority" in protecting patients, said it would not take any action until ACHE reports its findings.

Savannas Hospital stumbled on its last survey by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the private not-for-profit agency designated by the state to inspect hospitals every three years for compliance with its standards.

After receiving an excellent rating in 1996, the hospital was told to make improvements in 1999, the last time a full survey was completed. The hospital's psychiatric services fell short in three areas: initial assessment procedures, implementing plans "to provide a safe ... environment of care" and use of medicines.

Of the 574 psychiatric facilities reviewed by the agency in 1999, fewer than 15 percent were deficient in initial assessments and safety plans, and only 8 percent were deficient in use of medicines. Overall, the hospital's psychiatric services scored 95 out of 100, placing it among 459 facilities that scored in the same bracket.

Charlene Hill, a JCAHO spokeswoman, said it has asked Savannas to submit a confidential report within 45 days on the circumstances and causes of the nurse's killing and patient attacks. If the agency finds the report "thorough and credible," and the hospital takes the proper actions to prevent the incident from recurring, it's unlikely the agency would revoke the hospital's accreditation, Hill said.

The report is kept confidential so the hospital does a thorough investigation, she said. "We've learned over time it's a systems error, not a people error." But the agency also accepts information from the public on its complaint hot line, (800) 994-6610.

The state has different staffing requirements for psychiatric hospitals than nursing homes and acute care hospitals. The standard simply requires at least one qualified staff person on each floor at all times, according to state officials.

Although Stein said New Horizons workers are sometimes left alone while new patients are being screened, Lawn wood Pavilion spokeswoman Beth Tutee said that's a cardinal safety sin at her 36 bed psychiatric facility in Fort Pierce.

Savannas executives have refused to comment since the killing, instead issuing a release that said "Even in the most restrictive settings, forensic hospitals, jails and state hospitals, incidents such as this can occur." The facility has treated more than 15,000 patients since opening on Walton Road in Port St. Lucie in 1987 and said it will evaluate the tragedy in the coming weeks "to assist us in learning from this traumatic experience."

Serrano was being held without bail in a medical cell Wednesday on charges of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

Staff writers Colleen Mastery, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Jill Taylor and Snaggy Beat contributed to this story.


Settlement Reached for Client Brutalized At Port St. Lucie Mental Health Hospital

March 8, 2002

Port St. Lucie, FL.  – Olive Simpson was one of several victims brutalized by psychiatric patient Albert Serrano at Savannas Hospital in Port St. Lucie in April of 2000. Today, Attorneys Joe Reiter and Lake H. Lytal, III, reached a successful, substantial, confidential settlement with the hospital that will assure Mrs. Simpson will be cared for, in safe surroundings, for the remainder of her life.

Albert Serrano had been taken to Savannas in a delusional state. Admitting Records showed that he had a violent history, a history of psychiatric hospitalizations, including a stay at Savannas, only two days earlier he had been released from jail where he had been held for beating five people.

The admitting records for Savannas that evening contained a not that Serrano was hearing voices telling him to hurt people. Despite this, Savannas nurse Alda Ellington was left alone to complete the intake process while a co-worker went for a cigarette break. A short time later, another co-worker found Nurse Ellington and three Savannas patients beaten to death.

Albert Serrano was discovered washing himself at a pond outside of the facility. He had broken the necks of his victims with his bare hands. Olive Simpson survived the attack but her neck was fractured and her jaw was shattered.

Olive Simpson was transported to Port St. Lucie Medical Center. Her daughter was called and told that her mother had fallen out of bed. When the daughter arrived at the hospital, she found her mother unrecognizable.

Attorneys Reiter and Lytal discovered that Savannas had violated its own policy by allowing a nurse to be left alone during the admission process. The violation was even more egregious die to the fact that Serrano was 6’4” tall and weighed nearly 250 lbs. Additionally, at the time of the incident, Savannas did not have an emergency call system, surveillance cameras, panic alarm buttons or security staff.

The killing and wounding of innocent victims at Savannas drew tremendous attention by area newspapers. As The Palm Beach Post reported, “Never before in modern Florida history had anyone killed so many with their bare hands.”

Thanks to the substantial settlement, Olive Simpson is assured that she will be able to live in safe surroundings and receive the medical care she will need during her lifetime.



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