Coroner’s inquest focuses on designer drug
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Witness questioning at a coroner’s inquest yesterday zeroed in on a powerful and illicit drug—a chemically manufactured hallucinogen called DMT—as a possible contributing factor in the death of Anthony Birkholz last January.
A coroner in Idaho ruled “natural causes” when Birkholz was pronounced dead at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center after he lapsed into a coma and was transported from St. John’s Medical Center in a likely “brain dead” state, according to SJMC’s attending Emergency Room doctor Jeffrey Greenbaum.
But Teton County coroner Dr. Brent Blue is having none of it. Healthy 32-year-olds don’t simply up and die, he said, adding that the state of Wyoming recognizes a difference between cause of death and manner of death. According to blood samples obtained by Blue’s office, Birkholz had a BAC of .182—a number indicating legally drunk but not high enough for a practiced drinker to have succumbed to alcohol alone.
Tests for DMT were negative but Blue said designer drugs can often be elusive in detection given the variety of chemical “chains” they may consist of.
On the night Birkholz never woke up again, he drank with friends at The Wort and then moved on to dinner at the Amangani where he drank some more.
Witnesses say Birkholz was in the company of Casey Hardison, of Victor, who is described on Wikipedia as a chemist who served nine years of a 20-year sentence in Great Britain for producing a variety of psychotropics, including DMT. Hardison is currently charged with three counts of felony drug possession from a speeding incident in Bellevue County, Idaho in March.
Birkholz and Hardison were joined for the night by Noah Evans and his date Penelope Salcido. Evans testimony yesterday was held up when his lawyer, Dick Stout, said he and his client needed more time to prepare.
“This is not a criminal trial, Mr. Stout. There is no need to ‘prepare’ anything,” Blue, who presided over the inquest, said. “If you are concerned about him self-incriminating, you may advise him when not to answer a question.”
“I still need some time to prepare,” Stout said. “I was retained by my client just hours ago and he has a right to counsel.”
“No,” Blue answered. “Please take the stand, Mr. Evans.”
Evans outlined an evening of drinking that included the foursome being joined by local doctor Bruce Hayse, who suggested to the party they take a ride from him to his home since they should not be driving. The group did end up at Hayse’s home and within at hour, at 12:36 am, a call was made to 911 because Birkholz was unresponsive.
Responding police officer Derek Shreve testified that when he got there Birkholz was pale and lying on a landing of a staircase. Hayse was performing chest compressions. Shreve moved Birkholz down to the first floor where it would be easier to give CPR. Medical personnel arrived minutes later and took over. Birkholz never regained consciousness.
No witnesses knew of anything about drugs, nor heard drugs mentioned that evening. But Evans admitted under oath there was talk of doing DMT. When asked if he ingested DMT, Evans, under the advise of his lawyer, refused to answer. When asked if he saw anyone in the group take DMT, Evans paused for a long time. Stout shook his head but he answered anyway.
“Tony and Casey did,” Evans said.
Dr. Hayse is scheduled to testify today during the inquest. Salcido will also appear to give her account.
Blue repeatedly asked questions of witnesses Tuesday regarding Hayse.
“Did you observe Dr. Hayse drink?” he asked Evans, who replied no.
“Did Dr. Hayse use any drugs?” he asked Evans who responded in the negative.
Blue also asked Greenbaum if Hayse was present at the ER or whether he identified himself as Birkholz’s personal physician. Greenbaum answered no to both questions.