Garrett Reid case: Why long wait for results?

Garrett Reid , son of Eagles coach Andy Reid, seen in a photograph from his funeral booklet. He died at age 29 on Aug. 5 after a long battle with drug addiction.
Garrett Reid , son of Eagles coach Andy Reid, seen in a photograph from his funeral booklet. He died at age 29 on Aug. 5 after a long battle with drug addiction.
Posted: September 29, 2012

More than six weeks after the death of Garrett Reid, son of Eagles head coach Andy Reid, the coroner handling the case is still mum about when he will have final conclusions to share.

Welcome to the real world, say experts in the field.

Forget the turnaround times of seconds for Breathalyzers or hours for toxicology tests on TV crime dramas, said Andrew Baker, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners.

"There is no magic test you can run that will test for every conceivable substance in the world," he said.

The wait was seven weeks for the results on Whitney Houston earlier this year, eight weeks in the Michael Jackson case in 2009, to cite two high-profile examples.

Eight to 12 weeks isn't that unusual, said staffers in two local coroner's offices who asked not to be identified.

"When everything is completed, I'll release the results," said Northampton County Coroner Zachary Lysek, declining to speculate when that might happen.

His office got the case because Garrett Reid, 29, was found dead Aug. 5 in a dormitory room at Lehigh University, where the Eagles were holding training camp. The eldest of the Andy Reid's five children was working for the team as a strength and conditioning coach.

No signs of "suicide or foul play" were found, according to university police.

But it was well known that Garrett's troubled past included admitted heroin use, time behind bars and drug rehab.

After his son's death, coach Reid said, "Even though he lost the battle that has been ongoing for the last eight years, we will always remember him as a fighter who had a huge, loving heart."

Toxicology testing is complex, often requiring a series of follow-ups, as blood, urine and other samples are analyzed for many substances - up to as many as you might see behind the counter at the CVS, explained Baker, medical examiner for Hennepin County, Minn.

An initial panel of tests typically checks for the most familiar dangerous medications and illegal drugs. If that's negative, more tests could be run to check for less common substances - so weeks could pass even to determine drugs played no role.

More than five weeks were needed to rule out drugs after the January death of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua in Montgomery County.

In 2009, tests took more than two months to come back negative in the case of transgender woman from Little Rock who died during a voodoo ritual in Sicklerville, Camden County.

If suspicious chemicals are detected, more tests are run to determine if the amount was enough to possibly be lethal.

Even that determination is tricky, because tolerance varies greatly from person to person, so medical condition and medical history have to be taken into account, Baker said.

Concurrently, other kinds of testing might be in the works to determine if infection, cancer or other discovered problems might have been decisive.

Sometimes, those tests take longer than toxicology testing.

"A toxicology result in a vacuum is almost never going to tell you why someone died," Baker said.

Few drugs produce overdoses that leave telltale markers, like changed skin color, on a body, he added.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time you cannot tell that a person has overdosed from a particular substance," Baker said.

So the public needs to be patient.

"Of course, you're not going to go public with your final opinion, until all your testing is done," Baker said.


Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|