Crime and Courts

Nurse Pleads Guilty to Role in Fatal Botched Breast Surgery in South Bay

Surgeon whose patient died after breast-augmentation surgery also faces charges in connection to case.

Divino Plastic Surgery in Bonita
Divino Plastic Surgery

A plastic-surgery nurse pleaded guilty Tuesday to involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of a patient.

Heather Lang Vass and her boss, Dr. Carlos Chagon, were charged in the death of Megan Espinoza following a botched breast augmentation surgery. Espinoza, a 36-year-old mother of two, died more than a month after undergoing the operation in 2018.

Espinoza went into cardiac arrest during the operation at Divino Plastic Surgery in Bonita, but the defendants delayed contacting emergency services for about three hours, according to prosecutors.

Also on Monday in court in Chula Vista, one count of unlicensed medicine against Vass was dismissed. She faces up to four years in prison in connection with her pleas. She will be sentenced at a later date.

Chacon was originally charged with manslaughter, but in April 2023, that was upgraded to 2nd-degree murder. According to Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas, new information showed that, not only did Chacon refuse to call 911 for more than three hours, he also forbade his employees from doing so. In addition, Darvas told the court in April, Chacon lied to Espinoza’s husband about her condition, and although he called two other doctors to ask their advice on how to proceed, he did not give them all the information about her condition.

Both the district attorney and the California Medical Board have launched investigations against Chacon, yet he still is practicing plastic surgery.

Even though Espinoza died more than four years ago, Chacon’s administrative hearing has not been scheduled. In order to discipline a physician’s license, the state board of medicine must have “clear and convincing evidence” the physician violated the Medical Practice Act. According to a board spokesman, “A conviction of a crime is not required for the board to discipline a license.”

The deputy district attorney handling the case said a medical board hearing will likely happen after a judge determines if there is enough evidence to proceed with a criminal trial. In the meantime, the judge ordered Chacon to notify all surgical patients in writing that he’s under investigation for murder.

Chacon has pleaded not guilty to the charges. One of his attorneys called the charges “unique, extraordinary and unfair.”

“Nothing has changed,” said attorney Marc Carlos. “Despite what the prosecution says about these interviews with individuals, nothing has changed from a medical perspective. It is the same case. So now to ramp this up to a murder charge is something I’ve never seen. I’ve been practicing for 30 years in criminal defense and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The judge rejected the prosecution’s request to set Chacon’s bail at $5 million, instead setting it at $500,000.

There are stipulations: Dr. Chacon cannot do surgery in an unaccredited facility. He must use a qualified anesthesiologist and must notify all surgical patients that he’s facing a murder charge.

Espinoza’s family provided NBC 7 with a statement after Chacon was arraigned in April:

“The Espinoza and Gorcey families hope to see justice done for Megan. We eagerly await the next steps in this case and ultimately hope for legislative changes that will prevent this type of tragedy from happening again and ensure the public is properly informed regarding the medical professionals they seek care from.”

Chacon’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 5.

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