‘Plane Stunts on Meth’

Recall the 2008 case of Stanford University med school faculty member John Borchers (scroll down), a long-term addict of many drugs, who continued to the very end of his life (massively drugged, he piloted a plane into a mountain) to see patients. To this day, Stanford has said not a word about why it felt okay retaining this wreck of a man in a position of enormous responsibility.

Then there’s hero-pitcher Roy Halladay.

Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Famer Roy Halladay was doing acrobatic stunts in his plane before his fatal crash in 2017… Halladay had 10 times the acceptable levels of amphetamines in his system as well as morphine and an unnamed antidepressant that can impair judgment. Just before he died, the NTSB found, Halladay had performed a series of dangerous maneuvers like high-speed climbs and dives as well as turns just five feet above the waters of Tampa Bay. One sequence of climbs and dives ended with his plane hitting the water, killing him, according to the report.

The Daily Beast calls this a “fatal joyride,” but you and I know that in both cases, these rides were precisely the opposite of joyful. These were suicides, just as if they’d gone the cheaper traditional route — accelerating hyperdrunk into trees.

Once they’re dead, you can stick with the “No Comment” business.

So when eminent Stanford med school professor John Borchers staggered onto his private plane and flew himself into the side of a mountain in 2008, Stanford could get away with saying nothing when reporters tried asking the school about the fact that the body of the busy teacher/clinician was loaded down with so many drugs it took like a page and a half to list them all. He’d been a known addict for ten years.

In addition to cocaine and Prozac, toxicology tests by the FAA turned up opiates, mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic drugs. One of the drugs, buprenorphine, was among those Borchers prescribed to patients suffering from heroin addiction, according to his own online business profile.

John Borchers didn’t know how to fly very well, and he was maybe finally close to losing his license to practice medicine, so this was arguably a carefully prepared (#1: swallow the medicine cabinet; #2: pilot your plane alone at night through mountains) suicide. Yet Stanford has never said a word about having maintained this dangerous wreck of a man in a responsible and visible position on its faculty, though given his long record of addiction and attempted detox Stanford must have known about him.

UD drags up this ancient history because if you put aside the difference that Carmen Puliafito is still alive (though from his total silence in response to all efforts to talk to him you wouldn’t know it), his is a similar story of pretty overt fuckedupness determinedly ignored by a university that already has quite the history of ignoring fucked up high-level people.

USC faculty members I’ve been in touch with are incensed that a doctor was allowed to take patients for more than a year after his drug-fueled behavior was reported to the university, and they’re not buying the administration’s claims of ignorance.

Puliafito engaged in behavior (partying with meth-head friends in his campus office) that seemed designed to dare the University of Southern California to do something about him. Even after the LA Times told USC’s president that Puliafito had spent an evening lying through his teeth to the police about his relationship to a young woman found overdosed beside him in a Pasadena hotel room littered with drug paraphernalia (if you enjoy this sort of thing, you can listen to the police interview), the president simply wouldn’t hear what he was being told. In effect, he still won’t.

What we have here is a cover-up. Systematic cover-ups, as Steve Lopez notes. And you know what? Cover-ups exist to cover up not just a specific triggering event (Puliafito/Pasadena/Police), but, one has to assume, related, and possibly worse, stuff. What is USC hiding?

“[T]he Stanford University School of Medicine had no comment.”

And it never has had any comment since the curious 2008 death of one of its faculty in a private plane crash. People who knew John Borchers at Stanford added their praise to this glowing obituary; and only if you bother scrolling down to the very last comment on the story do you discover (details here) that Stanford had hired a man with ten years of substance abuse behind him, and that Borchers took his plane up with the following substances in his body:

In addition to cocaine and Prozac, toxicology tests by the FAA turned up opiates, mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic drugs…

A raging addict was treating addicts at Stanford University, and Stanford never got anywhere near acknowledging that, much less explaining why it thought it was safe to have this man in patient care.

… Borchers was … under investigation by the Medical Board of California and in danger of losing his medical license. According to the NTSB, an April 22, 2008, accusation by the [Medical Board of California] “documented a history of substance dependence and abuse for more than 10 years preceding the accident, involving the misuse of at least four different substances (including alcohol) and treatment through at least six different programs for substance-related disorders during that period.”

A raging addict took a plane up at night, and if he hadn’t managed to crash it into a mountain, he might well have crashed in nearby Incline Village, killing people.


So, the problem with failing to acknowledge mistakes like this is that they keep getting made. Look, for a recent case, at how many incidents it took before the University of New Mexico dismissed its chief lobbyist.

Chief lobbyist. The person who represented the university to the state government. A huge alcoholic, he’d racked up his third DWI (plus a non-DWI alcohol-related arrest) before the university finally pulled itself together and fired him.

This man is well-connected (‘son of longtime state Rep. Henry “Kiki” Saavedra’) and in a vastly corrupt, crony-ridden state like New Mexico I suppose that takes you some distance. But even in that context… Jeez.

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