A South Bay plastic surgeon already facing criminal charges stemming from the death of a patient pleaded not guilty to a newly filed murder charge.
Dr. Carlos Chacon, 48, was charged along with one of his nurses in late 2021 with involuntary manslaughter and other charges in the death of Megan Espinoza, a 36-year-old mother of two who died more than a month after undergoing a breast augmentation operation on Dec. 19, 2018.
Prosecutors said Espinoza was provided anesthesia by a nurse who was not trained to do so. The patient went into cardiac arrest during the operation at Divino Plastic Surgery in Bonita, and Chacon allegedly delayed contacting emergency services for about three hours. Chacon was previously released on his own recognizance under several conditions but was arrested and jailed last week.
Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas said Monday that further investigation into the case yielded additional information that led to the filing of the murder charge, including allegations that Chacon ordered his staff not to call 911 when Espinoza's condition declined and that he instructed staff to lie to Espinoza's husband regarding her condition. The prosecutor said Chacon also lied to several anesthesiologists he telephoned on Dec. 19, 2018, when he told them Espinoza had never lost her pulse or blood pressure.
Darvas said one of those anesthesiologists later told investigators that had he known the truth regarding Espinoza's condition, he would have called 911 himself. The prosecutor said that an anesthesiologist also volunteered to come to the clinic to help, but Chacon declined. Another doctor told Chacon to call 911 immediately, but he did not, the prosecutor alleged. "We believe this evidence shows the defendant's calls to these doctors were not to obtain assistance in how to handle the medical emergency taking place with Megan Espinoza's life, but to create plausible deniability and spread the blame for how he mishandled the emergency,'' Darvas told a judge.
The prosecutor said Chacon saw four other patients "while Ms. Espinoza lie suffocating on that table.''She said investigators also discovered other evidence that Chacon "was engaging in dangerous practices with other patients, including cutting corners, using unlicensed, unqualified employees, and putting the safety of his patients at risk to make more money.'' One of Chacon's defense attorneys, Marc Carlos, said prosecutors have "ramped this up to a murder charge'' despite no changes in the case since it was originally filed, no violations of his bail conditions, and no new allegations regarding any other patients.
"I've never seen anything like this, and I really think that doctors out there should be concerned because if something bad happens, this is what's happening to them next,'' Carlos said. Another defense attorney for Chacon, David Rosenberg, said his client "took several steps'' to try to assist Espinoza when things took a turn for the worse. He also said Chacon didn't believe calling 911 immediately would be necessary because Espinoza's oxygen levels and pulse were within the normal limits.
"To say that he ignored this patient and had no concern for her defies the medical records,'' he said. Rosenberg alleged that other than this, Chacon's record of performing surgeries has been without a blemish and that he has never faced a lawsuit regarding any of his patients until a wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuit was filed in 2019 by Espinoza's husband. That case was settled out of court last year. Prosecutors asked for a bail amount of $5 million, but Superior Court Judge Maryann D'Addezio set bail at $500,000, which his defense attorneys said he would post soon.
The judge set several conditions for his release, including that he may only perform surgery if a licensed anesthesiologist or certified registered nurse anaesthetist administers anesthesia during surgery and may only perform surgery at accredited surgery centers. He also must inform surgical patients of the pending charges he is facing and must provide proof of that notification to the court.
While Chacon is still licensed to practice medicine, the prosecutor said the Medical Board of California has filed a motion to have his license suspended.