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One man's failed suicide attempt leads to the death of another

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Oct. 17, 2007, 12:15 p.m.)

Arthur J. Kuhnke.

Lawrence 'Larry' Ptasinski.

On Dec. 30, 2006, their paths crossed.

One wanted to die. The other celebrated life.

A sequence of events, described often as tragic, left a family shattered and a depressed man sinking even lower than he already felt.

Kuhnke took an entire bottle of Tylenol PM that day, wishing to kill himself.

Instead, he took the life of Ptasinski, a 57-year-old lawyer from Park Ridge, Ill., who was shopping during a weekend retreat to his condo near Geneva Lake.

It was Kuhnke's third suicide attempt, at least, since late summer, defense attorney Les Johnson said.

The now-39-year-old Delavan man was attempting to drive from East Troy to his home in Del-Mar subdivision, near Delavan Lake.

He ended up in Walworth.

Several witnesses called 911, reporting Kuhnke driving recklessly through the streets--failing to stop at intersections, running vehicles off the road and weaving his own truck off the pavement several times.

Police couldn't find him in time to stop him.

On the 100 block of Kenosha Street, about 8:30 a.m., Kuhnke drove into the rear of a car parked directly behind Ptasinski's parked Volvo. The force of the impact spun Ptasinski's car forward, striking and killing him. He died about 5:50 a.m. the next day.

Kuhnke, incoherent, semi-conscious and unable to stand after the impact, doesn't remember a thing.

Ptasinski's family and friends blame Kuhnke for "senselessly" taking another man's life.

They described Ptasinski as an upstanding member of society. He was a Boy Scout assistant scoutmaster, a church leader, a member of a hospital's advisory board, a past president of the local chamber of commerce and president of his high school's alumni association.

More than 1,000 people attended his funeral and, as a lawyer, he prided himself on helping others, family members said. First and foremost, he was a father, a husband, a son and a friend.

"It is a cruel irony that his life was taken by an individual who lacked basic decency and concern for human life," said Carolyn Ptasinski, his widow. "Because of this reckless act, Larry became a victim."

Kuhnke was a victim too, of a disease that can have horrible consequences on a person's life, Johnson said.

"He was like a ticking time bomb," Johnson said of a client who had diagnosed clinical depression.

He blamed the county's health and human services department for not taking further steps to ensure Kuhnke wouldn't harm himself or others.

In December, after the third known suicide attempt, a psychologist recommended Kuhnke receive in-patient treatment to get his life back on track.

He had been employed as a garbage man until becoming disabled after an accident at work, Johnson said.

That was the start of his downslide. His wife was also leaving him, a man who struggled since being born into a low-income family with seven siblings, Johnson said.

Six days after the in-patient recommendation, and just eight days before the tragedy on Kenosha Street, a county psychiatrist said Kuhnke was no danger as long as he took his medication and started a six-month commitment to monitoring by the health and human services department, Johnson said.

"If he were kept in in-patient care for a few more weeks or months to get stabilized, maybe none of us would be here today," Johnson said Monday.

But they were.

Kuhnke--alive but in shambles after Judge James Carlson sentenced him to seven-and-one-half years in prison and 10 years extended supervision for homicide by intoxicated driving.

And a family--alive but left without a father, a husband, a son and a friend after an impaired man took the life of someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.



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