Questions arise over Castaic boy's 2013 death at LA hospital

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Four years after a little boy nearly drowned in his family washing machine, there are new questions about his death at the hospital where he passed.

The allegations come from a former lead pediatric death investigator at the coroner's office, and they suggest not only that the child's death was hastened but that the non-profit organization that harvests organs in Los Angeles has too much influence within the coroner's office.

It was in a running washing machine that 8-year-old Cole Hartman was found headfirst in the water by his father.

Doctors at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center told the family Cole would never regain consciousness, and his brain would never return to normal function.

Now, four years after the Hartmen family -who lived in Castaic - took Cole off life support and donated his organs, the Los Angeles Police Department has launched an investigation into Cole's death.

At the heart of the case: Whether UCLA anesthesiologist Dr. Judith Brill administered a fatal dose of the opioid fentanyl in order to harvest Cole's organs sooner. It's an allegation made by veteran coroner investigator Denise Bertone, who first flagged the use of fentanyl at the time of Cole's 2013 autopsy.

Bertone claims she campaigned for years to persuade supervisors to reexamine the case.

Last month, Bertone filed a lawsuit against L.A. County, claiming her superiors retaliated against her for calling attention to the case.

Bertone said she lost her position as pediatric death investigator when she took medical leave to deal with a cancer diagnosis.

In the lawsuit, Bertone claims Dr. Mark Fajardo, then chief medical examiner-coroner, told her "they killed him for his organs, I have no doubt. You just can't say that."

Meantime, the attorney for the anesthesiologist released a statement on Monday, saying: "Dr. Brill's administration of care was medically appropriate as any qualified medical expert will confirm. Neither Ms. Bertone nor the coroner's toxicologist are board certified pediatric anesthesiologists or critical care specialists, and neither is qualified to render an opinion on Dr. Brill's care of this child. Any speculation or insinuation that Dr. Brill intended to hasten this child's death is factually wrong and patently offensive."

Eyewitness News reached out to the LAPD, the District Attorney's Office and the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner about the investigation. Each said they had no comment.
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