SALT LAKE CITY – The top potential suspect in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart suffered an apparent hemorrhage and was on life support Wednesday after a six-hour emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain.
Hospital officials said Richard Albert Ricci's prognosis -- including whether he suffered any brain damage -- wouldn't be known for 24 to 48 hours. They said the cause of the apparent cerebral hemorrhage was unknown.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said his first reaction upon hearing of Ricci's condition was to swear.
"Clearly, if he does not survive, that would be a big impact on the case," Dinse said at a news briefing Wednesday.
"I've said from the first, this was an unusual case," Dinse said. "To have another twist come in was exceptional in my experience."
Though authorities name him as their top suspect, Ricci has maintained his innocence and has not been charged in the disappearance of 14-year-old Elizabeth, who was taken from her bedroom by a gunman on June 5.
Ricci, a former handyman for the Smart family, was in prison Tuesday on a parole violation on theft and burglary charges when he called guards to his cell and said he was having trouble breathing, state Corrections spokesman Jack Ford said. As they talked to him, he passed out.
They began resuscitation, and he was flown to University Hospital in Salt Lake City, Ford said.
Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Robby Russo said Ricci, 48, might have been brain-dead by the time he arrived at the hospital. "Now, it's too early to tell if he will have brain damage if he survives," Russo said.
No traces of drugs were found in Ricci's cell, and Ford said Ricci didn't leave a note to indicate suicide.
"This is the most bizarre thing that I ever could have imagined," Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart, said during the news briefing.
Afterward, Smart said his first thought was that Ricci had been poisoned, even though he was being held in a maximum-security cell.
Smart said he hoped that if Ricci survived, his near-death experience would "soften his heart."
Police hoped that survival would make Ricci more cooperative. "He's an individual who generally speaking never volunteered a lot of information," Dinse said. "He has told us things we don't believe are true."
Ricci had been in court earlier Tuesday, when his attorneys asked for more time to review theft charges against him. Third District Judge Paul Maughan granted the request and a hearing was scheduled for Sept. 17.
The theft charges include allegations that he took items from the Smarts' home.