By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org
Last month’s shocking death by gunshot of Broward Health Chief Executive Dr. Nabil El Sanadi is now officially classified as a suicide, but why El Sanadi killed himself remains a mystery that even his family can’t explain.
In response to a public records request by FloridaBulldog.org, the Broward Sheriff’s Office Wednesday released a Homicide Unit report with fresh detail about El Sanadi’s Jan. 23 death at the Sea Ranch Club condominium in Lauderdale-By-the-Sea.
While authorities previously have said El Sanadi committed suicide, they haven’t until now explained why they believe that’s true. The report lays out for the first time answers to lingering public questions about exactly what happened, dispels a persistent rumor of a second shot, and offers one tantalizing new detail about the case.
In sworn interviews with BSO crime scene detectives on that grim Saturday evening, El Sanadi’s wife, Lori, and his father-in-law, Lloyd Freilinger, 78, said that while El Sanadi had recently returned home following heart bypass surgery he “made no statements or comments indicating that he was depressed or intended to harm himself.”
“Lori El Sanadi stated that the victim had not been sleeping well since his surgery and was feeling frustrated with his recovery,” the report says. “She stated that her husband had been stressed about missing work due to the surgery and believed it may jeopardize his position if it was considered a weakness.
“Lori El Sanadi stated that there were many political issues that seemed to cause her husband stress, but nothing that he ever spoke about that would indicate suicidal intent,” the report dated Feb. 23 says.
El Sanadi’s death sent a jolt through Broward’s medical community. Another shock came the day of his funeral when, without explanation, Florida’s chief inspector general, notified Broward Health that with Gov. Rick Scott’s full support she would review every contract the troubled hospital district has awarded since July 1, 2012.
More unsettling news followed early this month about a joint FBI and Fort Lauderdale federal grand jury investigation into alleged corruption in Broward Health’s procurement department, shaking the taxpayer-supported public hospital system to its core.
El Sanadi’s sudden death just 14 months into his tenure as boss of the North Broward Hospital District was, in its immediate aftermath, a puzzle with many missing pieces. Today, it’s still a puzzle, yet is also the backdrop for Broward Health’s burgeoning scandal.
The report shows that BSO detectives looked for the missing pieces of the puzzle.
The last person to see El Sanadi alive
Freilinger, the last person to see El Sanadi alive, told them that about nine days earlier El Sanadi went to the hospital after suffering indigestion and was diagnosed with “serious cardiac issues.” El Sanadi underwent bypass surgery on Jan. 16, and spent five days in the hospital before being released on Thursday, Jan. 21 with a monitoring system and a home health care nurse. That was two days before his death.
Freilinger, who lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told detectives that El Sanadi took his surgery very hard because he’d not been ill much in his life. On the morning El Sanadi killed himself a monitor he was using alerted to indicate his blood pressure was too high. El Sanadi took medicine, his blood pressure returned to an acceptable level, yet he “seemed to be very upset and disappointed” and restless, Freilinger said.
Lori El Sanadi was out grocery shopping that Saturday afternoon and Freilinger recalled watching El Sanadi pace around the residence.
“El Sanadi eventually asked Freilinger if he wanted to walk with him downstairs to check his mailbox,” the report says. Freilinger asked to bring the dog as El Sanadi often liked to do, but El Sanadi said to leave the dog in the residence.
Downstairs, El Sanadi, 60, retrieved the mail and handed it to Freilinger before saying he needed to use the lobby restroom. Freilinger, who knew El Sanadi owned handguns but did not see him carrying one then, waited outside and saw no one else enter or exit the restroom while El Sanadi was inside, the report by BSO Detective Zack Scott says.
“A short time later, Freilinger heard a noise coming from inside the restroom that he described as sounding like a door slamming,” the report says. The elderly man went quickly inside and found El Sanadi lying on his left side on the floor with his head toward the restroom entrance.
“Freilinger stated that he observed blood surrounding El Sandi and initially thought that he had fallen against the restroom counter causing his chest sutures to open,” the report by BSO Detective Zack Scott says.
Freilinger ran to the security desk where a guard called 911. He then ran back to the restroom and tried to rouse El Sanadi, rolled him on his back and attempted CPR rescue breathing.
The report does not say when 911 was called, but does say police and paramedics were dispatched at 3:40 p.m. in reference to a person who had fallen. Arriving paramedics saw what appeared to be a single gunshot wound to the chest. They cut away El Sanadi’s clothing and exposed a rectangular, bloodstained bandage just below his sternum where post-surgery drains had been placed. No other trauma was found.
.38 found in El Sanadi’s pants pocket
Paramedics also “noticed what appeared to be a handgun protruding from the right front pocket” of El Sanadi’s black sweatpants. The weapon was later determined to be El Sanadi’s Smith & Wesson Model 642 .38 caliber revolver, loaded with the maximum five cartridges. Only one bullet, from the cartridge beneath the hammer, had been fired.
The paramedics pronounced El Sanadi dead at 3:59 p.m.
Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Mallak made a physical examination of the body on scene and agreed with detectives “the physical evidence was consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.” Mallak ruled the manner of death was “suicide,” the report says.
Mallak also offered an explanation for why El Sanadi’s gun was found in the pants pocket of his corpse.
“He stated that although the gunshot wound to the heart area was a lethal wound, the victim would still be responsive for a short period of time before blood loss would cause him to be incapacitated,” the report says. “This would mean that El Sanadi would still be conscious long enough to place the handgun into his pocket after shooting himself before collapsing.”
Detectives looked at the crime scene for signs of foul play. They noted the lobby restroom where El Sanadi was found has no windows or other points of entry besides the door. Further, they reviewed video surveillance of the lobby restroom area that showed El Sanadi and Freiling entering the lobbying, going to the mailbox alcove and then El Sanadi entering the restroom, alone.
“Freilinger can be seen standing in the hallway and using the water fountain. No other individuals are seen in the restroom area,” the report says. A minute and 21 seconds later, “Freilinger can be seen turning suddenly towards the restroom and then he enters. No other individuals are seen in the restroom area.”
The video goes on for another eight minutes. “At no point during any of the recorded footage does anyone exit or enter the restroom except for the victim, (the unidentified security guard), and Freilinger,” the report says.
Detectives also searched El Sanadi’s residence for a note or other clues that might show why he did it. In his bedroom closet they found “a large assortment of firearms and ammunition” and an empty holster “that appeared to belong to the revolver found in the victim’s possession at the time of his death.”
El Sanadi, who held a valid concealed weapons permit at the time of his death, purchased the gun in 2010, the report says. The name of the person who sold the gun to El Sanadi, as well as another individual in the ownership chain that began in 2006 when the weapon was first sold by a now defunct firearms business in Delray Beach, were blanked out before the report was released.
The detectives likewise conducted a “cursory search” of El Sanadi’s laptop, finding “no motive for suicide.” Detective Scott did a similar light search of El Sanadi’s two cellphones, one personal and the other “used primarily for issues involving Broward Heath.”
“I reviewed the victim’s communications on the days leading up to his death and the morning of, but found nothing indicating his intent to commit suicide,” the report says. Detectives intended to return the phones to Lori El Sanadi later, Scott wrote.