Kathy Sweeney Investigates: Synthetic Sudden Death | News
POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS)- The dangerous, even deadly impact, of synthetic drugs can be seen in a two minute piece of surveillance video taken from a Poplar Bluff convenience store back in July.
"Okay, there he comes in at about four seconds before ten 'til", says Butler County Coroner Jim Akers, referring to the last images of a disoriented and combative Charles Riels.
"You can see he falls on the ground, throws the mop bucket. At this point, he's telling everybody- help me, they're after me!"
The 40-year-old, high on bath salts, appears to battle his imaginary attackers as stunned convenience store shoppers and workers look on.
"This is how I want people to remember my brother," says Riels' little sister, Christine Boone. Boone holds on her lap a recent photo of her brother. His clean cut appearance makes you think casual professional, not crazed drug user.
Family friend Arnold Jones remembers the buddy he knew as Chuck Boone.
"There were a lot of times where I didn't want to be at home, and I stayed at their house," Jones recalls. "He was just always there to be able to talk to."
Mark Panagos knew Charles as the man who overcame his own struggles to take this well-worn bible into the Butler County jail to minister inmates.
"I knew the man that served God and loved God with all his heart," Panagos said. "And he made a difference in so many men's lives."
Riels' sister believes in the last few years though, her brother internalized the pain of losing both their mother and their grandmother.
"And I found out after the fact that he had started pulling away from the support systems of the church and his ministry," Boone tells me.
On July 5, Riels shows up at the convenience store. Patrolman Jamie Sample gets the call and finds Riels in the parking lot.
"When we went to put him in the car, naturally he was fighting and kicking," Sample recalls.
Patrolman Jim Gerber followed Sample's squad car and says he could see Riels become suddenly violent in the back.
"He flopped over and all I could see was his feet kicking the back windows, kicking the side windows, kicking the screen", Gerber said.
"He would just go round and round in the car", Sample added.
The officers pulled over and say they got Riels back in his seat. When they say he became violent again, they pulled over a second time.
"Just when I leaned in is when he delivered a kick," Sample said, putting his hand to his forehead.
Gerber describes what Riels did next as "flailing, kicking, trying to bite the officers, growling, snapping, chomping his teeth".
Then, Riels' actions came to a sudden, shocking end.
"He just quit," said Gerber. "I mean it went from biting and snapping and trying to bite us, to no movement whatsoever."
Medical personnel pronounced Charles Riels dead at the hospital. Back in September, Coroner Akers shared Riels' surprising cause of death.
"And that's what ultimately took his life was the Excited Delirium Syndrome complicated by the use of bath salts," Akers said.
What was your first reaction when you heard those words, Excited Delirium Syndrome? I asked.
"I had to research it," he said.
In Farmington, Forensic Pathologist Dr. Russell Diediker conducted Riels' autopsy and listed his cause of death as excited delirium syndrome-an old diagnosis with a new, disturbing meaning.
"In the past, prior to the widespread use of cocaine, methamphetamine, PCP, and now bath salts, the excited delirium and excited delirium syndrome was primarily seen in the severely mentally ill," Dr. Diediker explained.
Excited Delirium is defined as an acute transient disturbance in consciousness involving disorientation, hallucinations, and combative or violent behavior.
Excited Delirium Syndrome refers to the sudden death of an individual, during or following an episode of excited delirium.
"In essence, these drugs can become somewhat toxic to the heart", Diediker said.
And that's what happened in Charles Riels' case--his heart suddenly stopped.
"The longer they're agitated and combative, the greater the risk is of a cardiac event," said Diediker.
Coroner Jim Akers recalls Riels' alarmingly high body temperature.
"For the most part, his body had shut down about two hours before we did the body temp, and it was 105 then," Akers said.
Back at the church Riels attended, friends and family stress his death should not be seen as an isolated event.
"Anyone, and especially with drugs and alcohol and synthetic drugs that are coming now that I think this is about, that it can affect any family," Mark Paganos said.
For lifelong friend Arnold Jones, there is grief and regret.
"I didn't go to his memorial service," Jones recalls through tears. "It was just too hard."
But, there is also reason for hope, as Paganos leafs through Riels' well-worn bible.
"And. I know on the day of his passing, that this bible was in his possession."
Younger sister Christine Boone offers this hope that her brother did not die in vain.
"Please educate yourselves about the dangers of these drugs," Boone said as she tearfully holds her brother's picture in her lap. "There's no way to know what could happen to you, but this could have happened to anybody. Please don't let it be you."
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