Official: Shooting suspect's medical bill won’t fall to Rock County

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staff, Gazette
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

— Two months ago, Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden was concerned the sizeable hospital bill for an injured murder suspect could fall on his department.

As Daniel Bellard’s time in a Madison hospital approaches 100 days, however, one sheriff’s office official said the county does not think it should be held responsible for a bill that could total more than $1 million.

Meanwhile, the homicide case against Bellard is on hold until his condition improves.

Bellard, 75, shot and killed his neighbor, 59-year-old Christine Gestrich, inside his barn in the town of Plymouth on Feb. 6, authorities said.

As police responded to the property, they heard a shot and found Bellard with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head, Spoden told The Gazette in March.

Bellard was flown in critical condition to University Hospital in Madison, where he has remained.

Such a lengthy stay—97 days, as of today—likely will rack up a significant bill.

The county’s position, however, is that it should not have to pay for Bellard’s medical care, Rock County Jail Administrator Erik Chellevold said this week.

That’s because Bellard is not considered to be in the county’s custody, Chellevold said.

Although he was arrested in February on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide and Rock County sheriff’s deputies guard him around the clock, Chellevold said Bellard has not been booked into the Rock County Jail or charged with a crime.

“He is not in our custody, so he is responsible for his own medical bills,” Chellevold said.

Bellard’s medical care will not be on the county’s dime until a physician decides he is well enough to be booked and taken into custody, Chellevold said.

“At that point, we would be responsible for his care,” Chellevold said.

The cost of his current stay falls on Bellard’s private insurance, Chellevold said.

If it does, the county would be off the hook for a potentially huge bill.

The average daily cost of hospital services in a case such as Bellard’s—someone who needs surgery at a Dane County hospital for a traumatic head injury—is $11,238, according to Wisconsin PricePoint, which collects data on hospital costs.

Based on that estimate, the cost of Bellard’s time in University Hospital would reach seven figures: $1.09 million.

That rate only includes hospital services and does not factor in the cost of surgeries, according to Wisconsin PricePoint. The actual price could be higher.

Although Chellevold said the county’s position is that it does not have to pay, Rock County Corporation Counsel Jeff Kuglitsch refused to comment when asked about it.

County officials have discussed the cost, but the county has not received any of Bellard’s medical bills, Kuglitsch said.

“At this point, there are no bills,” he said. “When and if bills come, we will address those situations as they arise.”

Asked what the county would do if it received a $1 million hospital tab, which would well surpass the jail’s annual budget for medical costs, Kuglitsch declined to comment.

“I’m not going to respond to a hypothetical,” he said.

The Gazette was not able to reach Spoden for comment.

One thing the sheriff’s office will have to pay for is the cost to guard Bellard in his Madison hospital room.

Deputies have been “providing security” for Bellard since he has been in the hospital, Chellevold said.

Keeping them at the hospital has cost approximately $50,000 as of April 24, Chellevold said. That figure only accounts for salary, he said, and does not include mileage costs.

Officials have explored the possibility of bringing Bellard to a Rock County hospital but because of the severity of his injuries have not been able to, Chellevold said.

As Bellard recovers, authorities are all but done investigating the homicide case against him, Capt. Todd Christiansen said.

Bellard is still the only suspect in Gestrich’s murder, Christiansen said. The investigation has been turned over to the Rock County District Attorney’s Office so it can file charges.

But that can’t happen until Bellard is well enough to come back to Rock County, Christiansen said.

“As long as he’s at the hospital, everything’s on hold,” he said.

Last updated: 10:36 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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