Orange County News
Huntington Beach detox facility in question over man's death
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- One year ago, Jason Redmer passed away and not a day goes by that his mother, Lynne, doesn't ask the question, "Why?"
"He had a deep heart and he just loved life," the Orange County resident recalls.
But behind his big smile was a decade long struggle with alcohol.
"Whiskey is what he normally would drink," she said. "He said when he would go on trips and vacations he would take lots of pictures because he wouldn't remember the vacations."
Redmer's family said he tried several times to get sober, only to relapse. After a work injury in 2010, his mother said he also became addicted to pain killers.
"It was horrible because he was trying. He was trying so hard," the grieving mother said.
By April 2012, her 28-year-old son, now jobless and without medical insurance, sold his much-loved truck. He needed nearly $2,500 to enter West Coast Detox Services, an alcohol and drug addiction treatment facility in Huntington Beach.
"He was texting me on the way up there and he's like, 'I'm tired of dying. I want to start living,'" said Jason's brother, Chris.
The day Redmer was dropped off at the facility, his mother told him that she loved him and that she was proud of him.
Redmer and his mother talked once on April 14 and he said he was OK. It would be their last conversation. Redmer was found dead two days later.
"They were supposed to watch him and they really let him die there," she said about West Coast Detox.
West Coast Detox requires incoming clients, including Redmer, to acknowledge it is not a medical facility. Redmer signed a form confirming that. However, his mother said she overheard his conversation with a representative of the facility before he chose West Coast. She said he was told he would be monitored regularly by a doctor.
"There's no doctor on staff because that's not what's being offered. The monitoring is done on a weekly basis or as needed basis," said Tracy Green, an attorney representing West Coast Detox.
Redmer's death on April 16, 2012, was not the first sign of trouble there. Eyewitness News first looked into West Coast Detox in 2011 after neighbors contacted our newsroom with complaints.
Police have received more than 60 calls to West Coast since it opened in March 2011. The reports include disturbances, lack of supervision concerns and the discovery of drug paraphernalia on nearby property. Police said a recent incident includes a report of an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription drugs on March 4. The facility is located just two houses away from Schroeder Elementary School.
In our first story about West Coast Detox in Nov. 2011, neighbor David Rooks told Eyewitness News that he found a pen with heroin in their backyard. Another day, he found foil. According to a police report, the foil appeared to be used to smoke narcotics.
West Coast Detox owner Don Ramsey told us then that they had stepped up searches of clients.
"We tested the people who were in the home. They all tested negative ... I believe it was a one-time incident," Ramsey said.
Five months after that Nov. 2011 interview, Redmer died at the facility.
California's Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, or ADP, is now trying to close down West Coast Detox.
State officials said residential treatment facilities like this are not allowed to provide medical services. However, an attorney for ADP said staff gave drugs to more than 12 clients, including Redmer, before seeing a doctor.
According to the state's accusation, the day Redmer checked in on April 12, staff gave him the highly regulated drugs, Librium, Temazepam and Phenobarbital - all without a prescription.
"It was medication that was left over from another patient that hadn't been destroyed yet," Green acknowledged. However, she said that practice no longer happens.
It wasn't until the next day that Newport Beach doctor Carlos Montano visited West Coast Detox and wrote the actual prescription.
Green said West Coast was aware that providing medication before a patient sees a doctor is a violation of ADP rules. However, Green insists "the fact there was some medication given to him beforehand didn't cause him to pass away."
The day before Redmer died, he broke into a box of so-called "dead meds," leftover medications that were stored in an unlocked garage attic, according to the state's accusation.
According to a police report, Jason admitted to staff he took two pills of Suboxone, a narcotic. Those narcotics were in addition to the medication prescribed by Dr. Montano.
But instead of getting Jason assessed at a medical facility, West Coast chose to monitor him. Jason's mother asks the question over and over, "Why did they let him die there?"
The facility's attorney said Redmer seemed OK the afternoon before his death. There were no signs of distress. No one called 911 until he was found dead in his bed the next morning.
The state's accusation said that failure to get medical help "contributed to or caused his death," so too did the facility's failure to destroy the dead meds left behind by former clients.
"In the past, West Coast was not as vigilant as it should have been with respect to locking up the medications and destroying them on a regular basis," Green said. "All of that has been changed."
Green added that the disposal of the dead meds now takes place daily, instead of weekly.
On Tuesday, two agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration were spotted by Eyewitness News at West Coast Detox for what's believed to have been a surprise inspection.
Redmer's family has a lot of unanswered questions, including how a bottle of Phenobarbital ended up in his underwear the morning of his death. It was only discovered by the coroner.
Green said Redmer must have stolen the bottle from the dead med collection, since the prescription belonged to someone else. Green said staff did not search him well enough after catching him in the dead meds.
Redmer's family also wonders if there were answers in the box of dead meds. West Coast said it destroyed the medication hours after he got into it as part of a regularly scheduled disposal.
"There was no attempt to hide anything here," Green said. "No one asked to test those particular drugs."
The Orange County Coroner ruled Redmer's death as "undetermined."
Lynne Redmer points out that the coroner was unable to test for certain drugs, because the dead meds were destroyed.
"That evidence isn't available, they can't test," she said.
Rodney Thomas, the Orange County Coroner manager of investigations, said the case remains open and that it is continuing to search for potential causes.
The coroner's office would not elaborate, but confirmed to Eyewitness News that the case has potential criminal implications.
West Coast Detox is still operating. The facility's owner has filed a "notice of defense," saying it will fight the state's efforts to close it down. A hearing is scheduled for this fall.
So far, Dr. Montano, who wrote Redmer's prescription, has not returned calls seeking comment.
"I'd like to see some justice for Jason." his mother said.
The Redmer family also supports AB-40, a bill introduced by California Assemblyman Allan Mansoor that would require tighter regulation of detox facilities. The first hearing was held Tuesday in Sacramento.
orange county news, eileen frere
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