Spate of drug, alcohol deaths worrying trend

Alcohol and drug abuse played significant roles in seven of the deaths investigated by the Mesa County Coroner’s Office during Thanksgiving week, a spate of deaths that struck forensic pathologist Rob Kurtzman as a toll worth noting.

Kurtzman, the deputy coroner and two-term coroner, said it’s not necessarily unusual to see a
string of drug- or alcohol-related deaths, “but it was uncommon to have this number of cases with similar circumstances over a short period of time.”

The deaths came from across western Colorado and encompass a range of causes, all with common bonds. Kurtzman and Mesa County Coroner Dean Havlik provide pathology services to several West Slope counties.

The deaths that caught Kurtzman’s attention:

•  Paul Armenta, 62, a homeless man, was found Nov. 25 at a Mesa County home. He suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, stemming from chronic alcohol abuse and chronic heart disease associated with smoking, which combined to kill him, Kurtzman said.

•  William Kohl, 65, was found Nov. 25 at his Garfield County home. He suffered from cirrhosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypertension. The cirrhosis compromised his blood’s clotting ability, which contributed to his death from a hypertensive intracerebral hemorrhage.

•  Gregory Braden, 35, committed suicide in Garfield County on Nov. 26. He tested positive for alcohol, cocaine and marijuana, Kurtzman said.

•  Shawn Simons, 32, was found dead
Nov. 26 at his home in Pitkin County, the result of an apparent overdose from a yet-to-determined substance. There were indications of alcohol use, as well, Kurtzman said.

•  David Mallory, 48, whose body was discovered Sunday in Eagle County, died after suffering internal bleeding complicated by cirrhosis and alcohol use.

•  Cory Leitch, 30, suffered an overdose after an intravenous injection of a yet-to-be determined substance, Kurtzman said. His body was discovered Monday.

uE06E Aaron Rudder, 28, died Tuesday morning when he was struck by a train after drinking Monday night at DJ’s Road House, 3112 Interstate 70 Business Loop.

With the holidays approaching “where alcohol flows more freely,” Kurtzman said he hopes the deaths will serve as a reminder to drink in moderation.

As sad as the deaths are, Kurtzman said, “The real tragedy is for the family, friends and the rest of the community trying to get these people out of their self-destructive behavior.”


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