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Documenting the sad case of a 15-year-old's accidental overdose from prescription drugs

PALM HARBOR

It was about 10 o'clock on a Saturday night. Samantha Tindall got a text from 15-year-old Tyler Dobies. He told her he was with a friend and drinking a lot. He asked her not to be mad. He also asked her to be his girlfriend. At 11:15 p.m. he wrote that he "did a couple of bars," slang for Xanax, a prescription sedative.

"Why," Samantha asked.

He responded: "Because Ryan gave it to me. I'm sorry last time I promise babe."

• • •

Tyler was spending the night of Feb. 20 at his friend Ryan Anderson's house. It was supposed to be a normal evening. The boys were going to watch the Ultimate Fighting Championship on pay-per-view. Ryan's mom bought potato chips, Gummi Bears and Dr Pepper.

But early the next morning, she found Tyler cold and limp. The Palm Harbor University High sophomore had joined the legion of Tampa Bay area residents killed by prescription drug abuse.

His death, and the death of another student this year at one of Pinellas County's most prestigious public schools, sent shock waves through the community.

About 200 people showed up for a May 19 meeting called by Principal Herman "Doc" Allen. There was a lot of talk about drugs, but two hours passed before anyone mentioned the two dead children.

"We have to talk about it," Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala told the crowd. "This is not a secret."

Sheriff's report details the chain of events

Members of Tyler's and Ryan's families declined to comment for this story. But accounts in a 61-page Pinellas County Sheriff's Office report detail the events surrounding his death:

It was Feb. 20, a Saturday, and Tyler played two afternoon hockey games at the Clearwater Ice Arena. At 7:45, he biked from his house to the baseball field south of Nebraska Avenue to watch his brother play. The game ended around 9 p.m. Tyler asked if he could spend the night at his friend Ryan's house.

When Tyler's grandparents dropped him off at 9:15 p.m., Ryan's mom, Jane Anderson Carr, was returning from the store with snacks. Carr assured them the boys would not be allowed to leave the house that night.

The pay-per-view fight began at 10 p.m. The boys watched it in the living room. Ryan, also 15, told Tyler it would probably be boring.

"Not with these it won't be," Tyler said, according to Ryan's account, and pulled out a plastic bag with about 15 to 20 Xanax and green OxyContin 80mg pills.

The plan, Ryan told authorities, was to get "----ed up.''

Seeming signs of coming trouble

Tyler loved hockey, Velveeta and pizza dipped in ranch dressing.

His friends and family described him as a happy, easygoing guy.

"Nothing can make him sad or angry," his aunt Kim Estevez told authorities.

For more than two years, Tyler had lived with his grandparents, Lorraine and Richard Ingham. His mother, Jennifer Sweeney, is a nurse and works through the night, and the family felt it was better for him to stay with his grandparents.

Tyler's grades were average his first year at Palm Harbor, his grandmother told authorities, but they began to slip in 10th grade.

She kept tabs on Tyler, and he always asked permission to go out with his friends. In recent months, his grandmother said, Tyler "started to get sassy and defiant."

A night of excess and angst plays out

The boys made sure Ryan's mom couldn't find the drugs that night. Ryan told authorities he hid them in a teddy bear.

He said they both took Xanax and they both went to Ryan's room once to snort half a crushed OxyContin pill. People sometimes do this to defeat the potent painkiller's time-release action and get an intense high.

Tyler made seven or eight trips to Ryan's room. Ryan assumed that Tyler took a pill each time.

"He just kept taking them," Ryan told deputies.

They smoked some marijuana in the garage using a homemade pipe made from a socket in Ryan's stepfather's toolbox.

At least twice that night, the Carrs found the boys in the garage. Jane Carr's husband, Michael, saw the boys on a video monitor next to his bed. He told deputies he had installed 16 surveillance cameras outside the house and in the garage because of numerous problems with his stepsons and their father, Richard Anderson Sr.

Jane Carr got up several times because she was worried that the boys were smoking pot. At around 10:30 p.m., she caught Tyler smoking a cigarette. She threatened to take him home if he didn't listen.

The boys fell asleep. At around 3 a.m., Tyler woke Ryan, according to Ryan's account. Ryan said Tyler whispered that he needed help getting into Ryan's room so Ryan's mom would not find him passed out on couch.

Ryan said he placed Tyler on his bed. He checked his pulse and felt his arms and chest. His arms were cool. His chest was warm.

Ryan said he was concerned because his 23-year-old cousin died last year of an accidental overdose. The death, attributed to prescription drugs and alcohol, occurred at Ryan's father's Palm Harbor home, according to a Sheriff's Office report.

But Ryan thought Tyler was okay. He got something to eat and went back to his room to play video games.

Ryan's grandmother, who was staying the weekend, told authorities she heard Ryan yelling for Tyler to wake up over and over for about 30 minutes.

At about 4:15 a.m., Jane Carr woke up and noticed Ryan's bedroom light was on. She opened Ryan's door. She yelled at him to turn off his game and go to bed. Ryan's grandmother woke up and told Carr that she had heard Ryan hollering.

Carr tried to sit Tyler up, but he was cold and limp. She called 911 and yelled for Ryan to get her husband.

Paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive Tyler.

Ryan was sobbing. He had a hard time breathing and was falling asleep as deputies tried to interview him. As a precaution, he was transported to Mease Countryside Hospital, where he was treated for a suspected overdose.

Ryan was okay but lethargic when deputies followed up with him a bit later that morning.

A friend's perspective on Tyler's choices

The St. Petersburg Times interviewed Tyler's friend Samantha last week. She is 16, and an honor roll student. She sat next to Tyler in English and across from him in Reading.

"We started talking and stuff and we just became really good friends," she said.

They hung out at lunch and walked to seventh period together.

She was starting to think of him as more than a friend.

They didn't see each other outside of school, she said. But Tyler had invited Samantha to hang out the night he went over to Ryan's.

She thought he might be drinking and smoking marijuana, and she didn't think it was a good idea. She lied and said her aunt was in town.

"I've never been to a party besides a sweet 16. My mom's really protective," she said.

When Tyler texted her that night and told her it was the last time he'd take Xanax, she responded:

"It better be. Bars are not smart to do. I'm going to bed. Night." She thought the drugs were a one-time thing.

"Everyone makes mistakes,'' she said last week, "and I thought he would come to his senses."

Samantha said she also responded to Tyler's question about being a couple.

"By the way, my answer's yes and stuff. But just don't do that anymore," she recalled texting.

"I didn't get a reply," she said.

She's not sure if Tyler ever got the message.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Accidental drug deaths on the rise

A Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office report said Tyler died of an accidental overdose of Xanax, a drug prescribed for anxiety, and oxycodone, a prescription painkiller available in a slow-release form called OxyContin. Tests found no evidence of alcohol in his system.

Last year, there were 2,488 prescription drug deaths in Florida, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report released on Thursday. That's a jump of nearly 14 percent over prescription drug deaths reported by medical examiners in 2008.

In many cases, multiple drugs were listed as a cause of death.

In the Pinellas-Pasco district alone, oxycodone in combination with other drugs was responsible for 188 deaths. Alprazolam, also known as Xanax, in combination with other drugs, was a cause in 108 of them.

Documenting the sad case of a 15-year-old's accidental overdose from prescription drugs 07/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 3, 2010 2:46pm]
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