Drugs, not struggle, killed McLeod

A large dose of injected cocaine, not a neck hold applied to Grant McLeod's carotid artery, is likely what led to his death, say a toxicologist and pathologist.

A large dose of injected cocaine, not a neck hold applied to Grant McLeod’s carotid artery, is likely what led to his death, say a toxicologist and pathologist.

Both doctors testified at a week-long coroner’s inquiry that sought to uncover facts surrounding McLeod’s death.

Police were called to the Chilkoot Trail Inn early on the morning of August 30, 2008, when a desk clerk saw a disheveled McLeod waving a hypodermic needle and acting bizarrely in the front lobby.

Following a struggle with police, McLeod went into medical distress and was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Whitehorse General Hospital.

An autopsy report found 39-year-old McLeod had 2.3 milligrams of cocaine per litre of blood in his body.

It was a “significant” amount of cocaine, said Vancouver forensic toxicologist and expert witness, Walter Martz.

“I have no doubt that this killed the person,” said Martz, who testified Thursday morning.

There is no maximum dose of cocaine that is guaranteed to put someone into medical distress, but forensic pathologist and expert witness Dr. Charles Lee said the concentration of cocaine in McLeod’s body was “certainly one of the higher levels I’ve seen in all the cocaine deaths I’ve encountered.”

The medical professionals were asked to consider whether a “carotid neck hold” applied to him before he went into distress would have contributed to his death.

When two police officers arrived at the Chilkoot, they attempted to arrest McLeod but were unable to place him in handcuffs.

The police officers struggled with him, at which point one of the officers, Terra Taylor, jumped onto his back with her arms around his neck.

When McLeod, a large, broad-shouldered man, dropped to his knees and began ramming Taylor’s head into the second-floor hallway of the hotel, she attempted to force him unconscious using a neck hold.

The carotid hold, taught to all RCMP officers during their training, involves applying thumb pressure to the carotid artery in the front of the neck until the lack of blood and oxygen to the brain causes the person to black out. It is generally used by an officer as a last resort.

Taylor attempted the hold three separate times but was unsuccessful in causing McLeod to become unconscious. Several minutes later, however, he went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing.

The carotid hold didn’t lead to his death, said Taylor.

“I did everything to protect people in the Chilkoot … I didn’t kill him,” she said.

“(But as police officers) we have to make decisions that unfortunately may end someone else’s life.”

In order for the neck hold to have contributed to his death it would have had to have been applied for a much longer period of time, said Lee.

“If the person never loses consciousness, then there is no direct link between the neck hold and the death aside from the stress of the altercation,” he said.

Lee believes, instead, that the medical distress was a result of McLeod having entered into a state of “excited delirium.”

The condition has been found with some cocaine-users and is evidenced by an increase in a person’s heart rate and blood pressure, strange behaviour, hallucinations and a display of “super-human strength,” said Lee.

The combination of a pre-existing heart condition from repeated drug use, the stress of the cocaine and the struggle with police officers, “overloaded his heart,” said Lee.

Testimony Wednesday from emergency medical personnel who attended the scene and a nurse and a doctor from Whitehorse General Hospital confirmed that everything was done to try and revive McLeod after he went into medical distress, including administering drugs to attempt to counteract the cocaine overdose.

Testimony from witnesses continues today. The six-person jury will then decide what recommendations they can give to the coroner, if any, to avoid similar deaths in the future.

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