Forest Lake nurse who stole patient's painkiller gets probation

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 1, 2011 - 10:45 PM

Prosecutors said Sarah Casareto stole painkiller meant for Larry King, above, and sent him undermedicated into an agonizing surgery.

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Larry King, right, was incensed by what he saw as a too-lenient sentence. Prosecutors said he was given only a third of the painkiller he should have had. King’s lawyer, Tony Nemo, is at left.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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The former nurse accused of stealing a powerful painkiller during surgery last fall won't go to jail, angering the patient who said the pain he endured while doctors removed kidney stones made him want to scream.

"I was the victim in this case, I was on a table, vulnerable," said Larry V. King, a deputy with the Carver County Sheriff's Office, who said he was angry that she received only probation. "I can't describe the experience I went through in a courtroom because I can't use the language to describe the agony I went through."

Under a deal struck with Hennepin County prosecutors, Sarah May Casareto, 34, of Forest Lake, entered an Alford plea of guilty Thursday to a fifth-degree controlled substance crime for possession of fentanyl.

The plea enabled Casareto to maintain her innocence while acknowledging the evidence stated in court would be enough to convict her.

As a result of the plea bargain, District Court Judge George McGunnigle stayed an adjudication of guilt, meaning that the case will be dismissed after she serves three years' probation. She will serve no time and pay no fine.

The original charge filed in February, felony theft of a controlled substance, was dismissed. According to the Minnesota Board of Nursing, she agreed to cease practicing nursing last March.

The plea didn't satisfy King, 57, who underwent a procedure for kidney stones last November at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Prosecutors said Casareto gave him only a third of the recommended painkiller dose during the procedure, in which a tube was inserted through his back into a kidney.

King, who was visibly shaken, told the judge he disagreed with the deal, calling it a slap on the wrist.

As easily as Casareto allegedly underdosed him, King said, she also could have overdosed him -- and killed him. "I think I'm going to end it there," he said. "I'm quite upset."

King said afterward that he lay on the table trying to scream and not pass out from the pain. He said he first brought up what happened a week later during a follow-up meeting with Dr. Subbarao Inampudi, who was in charge of the surgical team.

"I asked him, 'What the hell happened in that room?' and we had a very lengthy discussion about what occurred in that room," King said.

Brian Toder, Casareto's attorney, maintained his client's innocence. He said after the hearing that Inampudi gave a statement to police that he did not think King was in any pain during the procedure.

Toder said Casareto was never addicted to fentanyl, but that she became addicted to painkillers following a serious car accident in June 2010. The fentanyl found on a hair follicle had been prescribed following the crash, he said.

Casareto, who wiped her eyes as she stood before McGunnigle, declined to say anything. King shrugged in disgust as he looked on with his attorney, Tony Nemo.

McGunnigle noted that it was Casareto's first offense, that she had received treatment for addiction to prescription drugs and was seven months sober.

"This disposition should not be read by anyone as diminishing or condoning your betrayal of your professional responsibilities," the judge told her.

Afterward, Nemo said a civil case likely will be filed now that the criminal case is over. The facts will come out there, he said.

"I'm angry, I'm disappointed and I think it sends a bad message of what can happen in Hennepin County when you've done something bad," he said. "Instead of being sent to the woodshed, you get a timeout."

Toder said Casareto, who has maintained her innocence, will be working to get her career as a nurse back on track.

"In my opinion, this girl, Sarah Casareto, is the victim in this case," Toder said. "She didn't do what they said she did and she has to go through all this living hell."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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