A child's tearful 911 call after his dad's apparent overdose

By Kristine Guerra

An 8-year-old boy called 911 and told the dispatcher he was inside a car and he believed his dad, who was slumped over in the driver's seat, was dead. Photo / Supplied
An 8-year-old boy called 911 and told the dispatcher he was inside a car and he believed his dad, who was slumped over in the driver's seat, was dead. Photo / Supplied

Three children, ages 8, 6, and 4, were sitting with Christopher Koeberl in his car when he lost consciousness, authorities say.

As he was slumped over in the driver's seat, his 8-year-old son picked up his cellphone and dialed 911. Sobbing, the boy told the dispatcher what he thought happened.

"My dad's dead. He's not waking up or anything," the boy said, his voice shaking.

The dispatcher spent the next few minutes trying to get the boy's exact location and asking him if he could describe his surroundings. There were a lot of trees, the boy said, and they're in a car by a building with a lot of windows.

"Can you tell me what color the building is?" the dispatcher asked.

"I don't know," the boy said, crying and mumbling toward the end of his sentence.

"Well, we have help on the way," the dispatcher assured the boy. "The ambulance is going to be there shortly, okay?"

More than halfway into the 6 1/2-minute call, a man took the phone from the boy and gave the dispatcher their exact location. Koeberl's car was in the parking lot of the administration building of the Waukesha School District in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a few miles outside of Milwaukee.

The man told the dispatcher that he was on his way to a meeting when he heard the boy on the phone and realized that he needed help. Koeberl was breathing, he told the dispatcher, and he had a lighter and an energy drink on his lap.

"There's three children in the car here," the man said. "If someone can get here soon, that'd be great."

Koeberl has been charged with three counts of child neglect, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and operating a motor vehicle while revoked.

The incident happened about 5:40 p.m. Wednesday. Koeberl, 33, appeared in court Monday.

After an officer arrived, he tried several times to wake up Koeberl. He later opened his eyes slightly, but was unable to keep his head up, according to a criminal complaint. The officer administered narcan, a lifesaving medication used by law enforcement officers around the country to reverse the effects of an overdose.

Koeberl told police that he picked up his children from an elementary school less than two miles away and drove to the parking lot, according to the complaint. He initially denied taking anything other than clonazepam, a prescription drug that treats anxiety and seizure disorders, but he later admitted to snorting three Xanax pills about three hours before police arrived, the complaint says.

The boy said they were in the parking lot for about 10 to 15 minutes before he called 911, the complaint states. He also said he didn't see his father consume anything while in the car.

The officer, after getting permission from Koeberl to look through his phone, found that he was talking to someone about looking for "blues," a street name for Xanax, the complaint states.

Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium are most commonly used to treat people with anxiety. In the 1950s and 1960s, benzodiazepines were prescribed for a variety of neurological disorders such as epilepsy and anxiety-related disorders like insomnia, according to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights.

The group described clonazepam, the drug that Koeberl said he had a prescription for, as the country's most dangerous pill that has become a drug of choice for addicts "from Hollywood to Wall Street."

Xanax is the most frequently prescribed benzodiazepine drug in the country, with about 49 million prescriptions in 2011. Clonazepam is second with 27 million prescriptions that year.

In September, health officials warned that mixing such benzodiazepines with opioid painkillers could cause a fatal overdose.

About half of prescription painkiller deaths involve at least one other drug, including cocaine, heroin and benzodiazepines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem of overdose deaths in Wisconsin is not as severe as those of other Midwestern states, such as Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. In 2015, 878 overdose-related deaths - or 15 per 100,000 people - were reported in the state, according to the CDC. In West Virginia, which had the worst case of overdose deaths in 2015, the rate is 41 per 100,000 people.

Still, overdose deaths in Wisconsin have increased, according to the most recent data from the state's health services department.

The numbers of deaths related to opioid and painkiller addiction jumped from less than 100 in 2000 to nearly 400 in 2014, according to state data. Overdose deaths that resulted from benzodiazepines went from less than 50 to more than 250 within the same period.

The use of narcan, both by peers and trained law enforcement officers or paramedics, also has skyrocketed, from about 1,700 incidents in 2012 to 3,400 in 2014, in Wisconsin.

This was not the first time that Koeberl was accused of driving while under the influence.

In 2015, he pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Online court records show a child was in the car with him.

- Washington Post

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