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Area man jumps from car on Hwy 71, apparent suicide attempt

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Details remain sketchy, but Dickinson County Sheriff Greg Baloun confirmed Monday night that a man intentionally threw himself from a southbound vehicle at about 3 p.m. Monday along U.S. Highway 71 near Milford.

Investigators have characterized the incident as apparent suicide attempt. The sheriff described the man as someone from the Spencer area whose age ranged between 38-42. Milford police were the first on the scene. Emergency crews transported the man to Spencer Hospital.

Additional information isn't likely to come with much from the Dickinson County Sheriff's Office, where Baloun seemed impatient with questions posed by the public.

"I don't have a name. There's no accident report. It's not a motor vehicle accident. No laws were broken. It's a suicide attempt," he said.

Some of the details "become a mental health issue," according to the sheriff. "From our end it's a HIPAA deal. It's a medical thing."

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) set a national standard for privacy of health information and took effect April 14, 2003, but it's arrival has created some confusion.

"The federal law that he is invoking is used quite frequently now by medical officials, law enforcement officials and various contacts as a rationale for denying information about people involved in all different kinds of accidents, including traffic accidents," said Kathleen Richardson, executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

The lack of information may not an abuse of discretion, she said, because she wasn't sure if information would be classified as a law enforcement report or a medical report.

"How do you sort that all out?" she said. "I don't know. The rules and regulations are just so convoluted now."

Journalists throughout the state have told Richardson that it is practically impossible to get the name of an accident victim in a timely manner. She called the unclear restrictions a community-wide problem.

"Not only for journalists who are interested in the flow of information in the community, it's important for people to know what's going on - which of their neighbors are being injured in accidents," she said. "When something like this happens on a public roadway, of course there is a public interest in knowing what happened and the circumstances involved."

"I just think it's too bad that the community can't get more information about what was obviously a serious incident involving one of its members," she later said.

Baloun deferred additional questions to responding officer Bob Clark of the Milford Police Department. Clark did not return a phone message placed Tuesday afternoon.

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