Hazmat suits used to probe suspected overdose death

Special to the Journal/East Liverpool Police Department Wearing Tyvek suits and other protective gear, county coroner’s investigator Wade Boley (left) and East Liverpool Patrolman Chris Green carefully inspect a vehicle in which a deceased man was found.

EAST LIVERPOOL — For their own protection, a county coroner’s investigator and city police officer donned hazmat suits while investigating the suspected overdose death of a 31-year-old Wellsville man early Sunday morning outside a Pleasant Heights bar.

Officers were notified at 12:38 a.m. about an unresponsive male in a vehicle in the parking lot of Dave ‘N Deb’s Bar on Lisbon Street, arriving to find a man standing by the passenger side of a vehicle, administering chest compressions to another man inside who was later identified as William R. Reed, 31, Torrence Drive.

Patrolman Chris Green said later it was apparent the man inside the vehicle was deceased after he felt for a pulse and found none, as well as other signs, and he did a quick pat-down, saying, “I was looking for anything that was going to make anyone else sick, but I didn’t find anything.”

Green suffered an accidental overdose several weeks ago after being exposed to suspected fentanyl while conducting a traffic stop in which the vehicle was found to have a considerable amount of white powder inside. He brushed some of the white substance from his clothing at the end of his shift and quickly became ill, requiring several doses of Narcan to revive him.

Saying he had gloves and a mask on Sunday, Green secured the vehicle and waited for medics to arrive, also ordering the man who was administering first aid to Reed to remain on the scene in case he felt any ill effects.

“I just asked to monitor him for a while. Being I was exposed, I know how quickly it can get bad,” Green said.

When paramedics from Lifeteam arrived, they began to check for Reed’s pulse and rolled over his wrist when Green suddenly told them, “Don’t move a muscle” when he observed a “decent amount of powder” in Reed’s crotch area.

He said all police officers and paramedics were made to back away from the vehicle and told, “Nobody goes near that car until the coroner shows up.”

Green said he and coroner’s investigator Wade Boley decided they would both “suit up” in protective clothing out of concern Boley might succumb to the substance inside the vehicle and have to be pulled to safety by someone.

“We were in suits, double nitrile gloves and masks. The heat was so intense, we were just covered in sweat,” Green said, adding that the coroner’s office provided the Tyvek suits.

Although no drug paraphernalia was found, Reed’s outer clothing was cut from his body as evidence to be tested for possible fentanyl or carfentanil, Green said, adding he will also be waiting for toxicology reports from the coroner to determine the exact cause of death.

The bar was still open when Reed was discovered after a patron came in and made a comment about a guy slumped down in a vehicle outside.

Statements obtained during the several hours officers were on the scene indicated Reed was never inside the bar that night, and Green said he is waiting to obtain videos that might show how long he was sitting in the parking lot in his father’s vehicle, which the officer said he took without permission on Saturday.

“We don’t know if someone drove him there, panicked and left, or if he drove himself,” Green said, adding the vehicle was towed and has been secured in a safe place until tests can determine what substance was inside.

Green said he is also pulling videos from places Reed may have been before being found, saying his family last saw him at noon on Saturday. He asked anyone who had contact with him or knows his whereabouts between noon and 9 p.m. Saturday to call the police station at 330-385-1234, saying information can be given anonymously.

Although only Green and Boley wore hazmat suits during the investigation, and they were carefully stripped down by medics, with all their safety equipment double bagged and disposed of, other officers on the scene were also instructed to have contact with each other for an hour after they cleared the scene to make sure no one was feeling ill.

The man who gave Reed chest compressions ended up calling 911 later to be evaluated after not feeling well, Green said, although he was not sure if he was actually exposed to any of the substance.

Referring to the extreme safety precautions taken at this scene, Green said, “This is what it’s coming to. This is what it will come to for even routine traffic stops soon if we don’t get this stopped.”