Lawrence “Larry” Chrisman aimlessly traveled the roads of Kentucky until he was arrested in Adair County on May 31.
His journey was never meant to lead anywhere in particular but sadly ended with his body being discovered Monday, Dec. 19 near a busy intersection in Adair County. Last week medical examiners used dental records to confirm the identity of Chrisman.
Chrisman’s story is that of a man who struggled with mental illness and a mental health system that failed to offer him a lifeline when he needed it most.
Chrisman suffered from paranoid schizophrenia but had been able to manage the disease for 35 years.
“He was a Harvard graduate. He was a genius. He was a great man,” his brother, Andy Chrisman, told the Community Voice. “But he developed schizophrenia when he was about 30. And everything went south from there. He was able to work and function when he was on his medication.”
He was able to work at a grocery store and lived in Lexington with his mother, a college professor, until her death on Dec. 26, 2015.
Soon thereafter, Chrisman stopped taking medication.
“He was on medication then he stopped about a year ago, and that’s when he started having problems,” Andy said.
Andy resides in Massachusetts but spent two months in Kentucky in early 2016 trying to help Larry. There didn’t appear to be any solutions.
“We tried everything we could. The (psychiatric hospital) was really bad. They wouldn’t help us at all. With the way the laws are, he refused any treatment. We had no legal power to make him do it,” Andy said.
Last March, Larry refused when his family offered him a place to live.
“We tried to get him to get an apartment in Lexington and we tried to get him to come up here, but he wanted to check out western Kentucky for some reason. So he just kind of took off in his car with everything he had.”
ADAIR COUNTY ARREST
Lawrence “Larry” R. Chrisman was arrested in Adair County on May 31, just three days after his 68th birthday. Kentucky State Police Det. Brian Gibson pulled Chrisman over on Ky. 55. According to the citation report, Chrisman was driving 18 mph and weaving from side to side.
He failed a number of field sobriety tests and was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence. A blood sample was taken and provided to the KSP crime lab for examination.
Gibson wrote in the report that Chrisman’s speech was slurred and he was chewing on his jaw. Chrisman reportedly told Gibson he was an undercover state police officer and that someone had told him that through telepathy. Chrisman consented to a search of his vehicle and numerous alcoholic beverages were found. Chrisman said he drank one earlier that day. The report also states that Chrisman said KSP and the CIA had possibly put drugs in his cigarettes.
Chrisman pleaded not guilty to the DUI charge. While records pertaining to a defendant’s mental health are not public record, the Community Voice learned from a source that Chrisman was sent to a state psychiatric hospital shortly after he was arrested and stayed there at least two weeks. One court document shows that District Judge Michael Loy identified Chrisman as a possible danger to himself or others. Andy Chrisman said his brother was delusion and even suicidal, believing that others were trying to poison him. He said he was sure his brother would refuse medical treatment that included medication.
Judge Loy said during a telephone interview that he could not speak about specific cases involving mental heath issues but did answer general questions about options allowed the court when defendants suffer from mental health problems.
“I wish I had more options,” Judge Loy said.
When Loy faces a situation such as Chrisman’s, he can send defendants to Eastern State Hospital for a 72-hour hold, where they will be evaluated. What happens then is determined by officials at the hospital and Fayette County’s judicial system if necessary.
Chrisman returned to the Adair County Regional Jail from Eastern State. He remained there until lab results came back showing no trace of alcohol or drugs in his system. On Friday, Oct. 14, he was released from jail on his own recognizance with expectations that the DUI charge would be dropped.
CHRISMAN’S FINAL HOURS
Andy Chrisman was contacted and told his brother was being released from jail.
“They called and said they were letting him out and he wanted me to come and pick him up,” said Andy, who was at his home in Massachusetts at the time.
He made arrangements for Larry to stay at Dreamland Motel for the night.
“The plan was he was supposed to go to a motel and check in and he did. He was supposed to call me and we were going to work out the arrangements after that. But he never called,” Andy said.
That was the last time he spoke to his brother.
The following day, the owner of the motel called Andy and said Larry walked away. He took his belongings and the room key but didn’t check out, so Andy paid for another night in case Larry returned.
“I thought the plan was he was going to stay there for awhile until we could make arrangements. The last we heard he left that morning and he never returned,” Andy said.
Andy hoped his brother just took off as he has done in the past. He didn’t yet have his car, however, which was still impounded from when he was arrested.
“We thought maybe he just took off, because that’s what he did. He would take off for months at a time and we wouldn’t hear from him.”
Chrisman’s body was found near the intersection of the Veterans Memorial Bypass and Campbellsville Road on Monday, Dec. 19, nine weeks after he last spoke with his brother. His body was badly decomposed but an estimated time of death has not been released.
Coroner Todd Akin said a medical examiner determined that Chrisman died from multiple blunt force trauma, having injuries to his torso, head and face. They have not determined if his death was an accident, homicide or suicide.
CRIMINALIZING MENTAL HEALTH
If Larry Chrisman spent time in Adair County the day prior to his arrest, he witnessed a clear, warm spring day, with temperatures reaching the mid-80s. Nobody will ever know if he enjoyed the rural landscape as spring brought forth new life as he made his way through our community.
In the middle of the night, he was pulled over at 12:46 a.m. and arrested a short time later.
He was a man in trouble–not because he was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but because he suffered from untreated mental illness.
Chrisman’s story is a sad one, but his is not that different from many others. According to an article by Dr. Renée Binder, a professor of psychiatry and a past president of the American Psychiatric Association, around 2 million people who suffer from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are admitted to correctional facilities each year.
Dr. Max Kinnaman, a psychiatrist and medical director at the T.J. Health Columbia behavioral health unit, referred to Dr. Binder’s article during a telephone interview.
“It’s a common problem,” Dr. Kinnaman said. Patients “are admitted to correctional facilities, jails, prisons, what have you, and then tend to spend more time behind bars and face more problems than if they were treated in an appropriate facility like a mental health facility.”
Dr. Binder wrote that, “Our nation’s jails and prisons are ill-suited to treat people with mental illness, yet in many locales they have become the leading mental health facilities.”
For Larry Chrisman’s brother, the painful loss leaves questions that may never be answered. While he knows his brother played a role in his own sufferings because he refused treatment, Andy could not find an avenue to save his brother from himself.
“The system totally failed him. There is nothing to help people like him,” Andy Chrisman said.
By Sharon Burton