Florida doctor found dead days after arrest on suspicion of raping sedated patients. Source: The Guardian

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Florida doctor found dead days after arrest on suspicion of raping sedated patients

Eric Salata faced investigation over claims he assaulted two women at his clinic after incapacitating them

Downtown Naples, Florida

Naples, Florida, where Eric Salata’s clinic is based. Photograph: EQRoy/Alamy

Ramon Antonio Vargas Thu 1 Dec 2022 09.40 GMT Last modified on Thu 1 Dec 2022 15.03 GMT

A doctor in Florida who was accused of drugging and raping his patients has been found dead, according to local authorities.

Investigators could not immediately determine how Eric Salata, 54, died when his body was discovered in woodland on Monday. But they said he had a gunshot wound to the head, was lying next to a pistol, and that they did not suspect he had been the victim of a crime.

Police in the city of Naples had arrested Salata on 21 November on allegations that he raped two patients at his cosmetic surgery clinic after incapacitating them with laughing gas, the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and tequila.

Eric Salata

Eric Salata. Photograph: Naples police department

A week later, after the doctor was released on bond from jail, deputies with the sheriff’s office in Collier county – which includes Naples – responded to a request to check on Salata after he went out of his home while leaving behind two notes, his wedding ring and his credit cards, the local news outlet WINK-TV said, citing a police report. The notes’ contents were redacted in the report obtained by WINK-TV.

The person who alerted deputies about Salata also informed a company managing the ankle monitor that a judge had ordered him to wear to track his movements while he was out on bond. The device showed Salata walking away from his home that morning before stopping.

A deputy who searched Salata’s last known location saw a boot sticking out of a wooded area nearby and found the doctor’s corpse in a ditch. He appeared to have died a short time earlier, the sheriff’s office report said, according to WINK-TV.

Before his arrest and death, Salata and his wife operated a Pura Vida Medical Spa in Naples.

One of the women who reported Salata to the police said she woke up from a cosmetic procedure and realised he was performing oral sex on her. She reported losing consciousness again and waking up to notice Salata had raped her.

The woman, 51, said Salata had given her tequila, Xanax and laughing gas, claiming they were forms of pain relief.

Another woman, 72, said Salata began massaging her as she lost consciousness after being given laughing gas, and he then raped her, leaving her lip bruised from the attack.

In both cases, Salata was the only medical professional in the procedure room, police said, according to reports.

Investigators charged Salata with two counts of sexual battery to a physically helpless person and he was scheduled for a court appearance on 19 December. Salata could have faced between six years and 30 years in prison for either of those charges if convicted.

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Two days after Salata’s arrest made the news, a third woman went to police and accused him of sexual battery, WFTX-TV reported. Salata had not been charged in connection with that allegation when he died.

A call to a phone number listed for Pura Vida on Wednesday went directly to voicemail, and a recording said the clinic was closed “indefinitely”.

Salata’s case drew attention after a neurologist, Ricardo Cruciani, killed himself in a New York City jail in August while awaiting sentencing for his conviction on charges that he had sexually abused patients. Cruciani, who had denied the accusations, faced a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 and online chat is also available. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counselor. A list of prevention resources can be found here.

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org

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