CLEARWATER — As a husband and wife lay dead from an apparent prescription drug overdose inside their locked bedroom, their children assumed they were sleeping and went about their night and morning alone, police said Wednesday.
Susan and Eric Kinkead were discovered by police about 9 a.m. Wednesday after a family friend called authorities because the couple's children hadn't seen them in more than a day.
The Kinkeads appear to be the latest casualties of a growing prescription drug abuse epidemic that now kills thousands of Floridians a year. Last year, 249 accidental drug-related deaths occurred in Pinellas County. Of those, 179 were attributed to prescription drugs, according to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office.
In this latest tragedy, one of four children living in the unit at Park Place Apartments, 503 Fairwood Ave., No. 207, sent a text message to the family friend Wednesday morning. The text asked her to check on the adults because they had not been seen since Monday night.
The friend called another friend, who went to the home, then called police when he could not open the locked door.
The couple were found in their bed.
The four children living at the home are Susan Kinkead's 14-year-old and 17-year-old sons, the Kinkeads' 10-year-old son, and Susan Kinkead's 5-year-old niece, police said.
The three older children had gone to school Wednesday morning. The 5-year-old was home when the friend and officers arrived.
On Wednesday afternoon, the children were being cared for by a family member, said Clearwater police spokeswoman Beth Watts.
There were no indications of foul play and nothing to suggest the couple were suicidal, Watts said.
Watts confirmed that prescription drugs were found in the couple's first-floor apartment, though she declined to identify what type, citing an ongoing investigation.
Autopsies and toxicology tests will be performed to determine the cause of death, Watts said.
Close friend Tracey Steinwandel, 38, said she had been very concerned about the couple's drug use.
"She was a really good friend," Steinwandel said. "I looked past everything they did and welcomed their kids into my home."
There were indications that the Kinkeads were addicted to pain pills like OxyContin, she said, and they were known to ask people for pills.
Upstairs neighbor Joshua Paquette, 22, who is six months into recovering from a prescription drug addiction, said he believed the Kinkeads were using pain pills.
"I know the parents are active drug users," he said. "I'm in recovery, so I know when people are high."
The investigation stirred concern among neighbors, some still rattled by the death of Laura Taft, who police said was stabbed inside her nearby apartment in February. And in November 2009, a 17-year-old boy was fatally shot in a parking lot at the same complex, which is north of Drew Street and east of U.S. 19.
"We all have kids," said neighbor Kimberly Jones, 41. "And it's just scary."
A Department of Children and Families spokeswoman said her agency was in contact with the children's family members "to see what they need and determine if we can help in any way."
The spokeswoman, Erin Gillespie, said the DCF did not have any prior cases alleging abuse or neglect of the children.
Neither of the Kinkeads has a criminal record in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
But the couple lived an alternative lifestyle, according to social-networking sites and neighbors.
On her MySpace page, Susan Kinkead calls herself "Lady Stryker" and lists her interests as "BDSM, Floggers, Whips, Canes, Bondage, Paddles, Etc. … "
Eric Kinkead goes by the nickname "Pain" on his page. In a section about himself, Eric Kinkead wrote on his MySpace page: "I am married to a beautiful Dominant Women her name is LadyStryker. and we have 4 children, If this bothers you, sorry, I wasn't meant to meet you. If this does not bother you, Great, we might be able to strike up a conversation."
Times staff writer Dominick Tao and Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.