A Florida man with Down syndrome who died in a hot car in May was left there by a caretaker who fell asleep after overdosing on a drug that produces effects similar to opioids, authorities said on Friday, Sept. 20.
John LaPointe, 35, was taken to a doctor’s appointment on May 9 by Joshua Russell, now 26.
LaPointe was not verbal and had the intellectual capacity of a 1-year-old, Seminole County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told reporters at a press conference, reported the Tampa Bay Times.
After the appointment, Russell drove a company vehicle to his house where he took kratom, the drug, by ingesting two packets of kratom powder wrapped in toilet paper.
Russell then attempted to drive back to the living facility where LaPointe resided but began feeling tired so he turned around and drove to his house, parked it outside, and fell asleep.
Before he nodded off, he opened one of the windows part of the way. The vehicle was turned off as he slept.
When he woke up two or three hours later, he was sweating and LaPointe appeared unconscious.
Russell tried reviving the man but was not able to and grabbed a gun from his house to kill himself with before calling his mother, who worked at the same facility, to tell her what happened. They met up and she called 911 after seeing LaPointe, who was soon declared dead.
The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office recently said that LaPointe died of hyperthermia. An investigation indicated the temperature in the vehicle reached 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
“You know this poor guy baked in that car, that’s what happened,” said Gualtieri, reported WFTS.
Russell was initially arrested on the charge of carrying a concealed weapon but he was freed on bail. He was arrested on the charge of aggravated manslaughter on Friday.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia with leaves that contain compounds that can have psychotropic (mind-altering) effects.
The drug is not illegal and can be ordered over the Internet; many people ingest kratom as a pill, capsule, or extract. Others chew leaves, brew leaves as a tea, put leaves in food, or smoke the leaves.
“Kratom can cause effects similar to both opioids and stimulants. Two compounds in kratom leaves, mitragynine and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine, interact with opioid receptors in the brain, producing sedation, pleasure, and decreased pain, especially when users consume large amounts of the plant,” the institute stated.
“Mitragynine also interacts with other receptor systems in the brain to produce stimulant effects. When kratom is taken in small amounts, users report increased energy, sociability, and alertness instead of sedation. However, kratom can also cause uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects.”
Dr. Gerald Fitzgerald of Fitztropics Medical told Spectrum News that in small doses, kratom supposedly gives users an alertness.
“[I]n the higher doses, like 15 grams or more, it makes you sleepy and wanting to fall asleep, tired, and it makes you quit breathing—respiratory depression,” Fitzgerald said.