In my last post, I mentioned that I will be launching a website for my writing projects, in particular the book I’ve written about federal prosecution of pain doctors, including my husband, Cecil. I expect the site to go live in August. Meanwhile, I plan to post excerpts from my book every now and then here on TigerBird Sunrise. This week, I am sharing something that happened early-on in the fed’s investigation into Cecil’s medical practice. This incident woke us up to the fact that, when the feds are after you, there is no corner of your life in which to feel safe.
In August of 2001, the feds had begun going after pain docs as a means of curbing the flow of Oxycontin and other narcotics. They had raided Cecil’s medical office and our home a month earlier, so we knew he was under investigation. At that early stage, though, we were thinking they would realize their mistake and back off. We were still naïve then. It took the full onslaught, tactic after disturbing tactic, before we would become wise to their ways.
It was early evening. Cecil and our son, Dru, had taken two neighborhood boys to swim at our local lake. Our daughter, Kirstyn, and I were at the house. One of the boys with Cecil lived next door. I was standing at the stove when the boy’s father came running out his front door and yelled across the fence that Cecil and the kids had been in an accident on the way back from the lake.
I grabbed my keys and yelled for Kirstyn. We jumped into the car and headed for the lake. There was only one route he would have taken.
About half-way there, we came upon a line of traffic. Lights lit up the sky to the right across a field. “That’s them, isn’t it?” Kirstyn spoke, almost in a guttural tone. “Probably,” I mumbled. Our windows were up and there was an eerie silence. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. I drove as close as I could get, then stopped. As Kirstyn and I jumped out, a jolt of noise and chaos hit us. We both started running. Kirstyn streaked ahead. “Dad! Dad!” She screamed into the night.
Fire trucks and ambulances cluttered the street. Police and rescue vehicles were everywhere. People yelled back and forth, but I couldn’t tell what they were saying. As I got close, I could smell fuel and I saw fire hoses snaking across the ground. Someone tried to stop me, but I just kept going. I was all animal at that point: senses on high alert and very little thinking.
I followed the chaos with my eyes and felt a wrenching from the inside out when I saw Cecil’s truck. It was in someone’s front yard, upside down and in three pieces. Two huge evergreens that had been taken out by the truck engulfed its wreckage.
I wasn’t sure where to go first. An ambulance was off to my left. I ran over to it and found Dru and one of the other boys inside, strapped onto stretchers. Dru was wearing a neck brace.
“Oh God,” I said aloud, afraid to go forward, at the same time I was jumping in. “What happened, Baby?” I tried not to scare him. Dru said people had screamed for him to get out of the truck before it blew up. As he scrambled through a window, he looked back at his dad, hanging upside down, trapped by his seatbelt. Dru crawled away from the truck and rescue workers scooped him up. He yelled for Cecil but was whisked away, expecting to hear the explosion any minute.
In the ambulance, Dru was beside himself over his father. I tried to reassure him. “It’s okay, honey, the truck didn’t blow up. I saw it. Are you hurt? Can you move everything?” He wasn’t sure at that point.
My thoughts were all over the place. I wanted to stay with Dru, but I also wanted to find Cecil. I looked out of the ambulance and scanned the scene. I couldn’t see him anywhere, so decided to run out real quick to make sure he was all right. Dru was clutching my hand, but nodded for me to go and let his grip slacken. “Come right back, okay?” He was trying not to cry. I gave him a kiss and promised I’d be gone for just a minute. Then I jumped out, feeling the tug of motherhood trying to pull me back.
I ran around the crash scene looking for Cecil and found him in another ambulance. Medics were working over him. He was dazed and disoriented. His eyes fixed on me as soon as I appeared at the door. He wanted to know about the boys, then he told me to go back and make sure they were okay. I stood frozen. “Donna, go be with Dru,” Cecil insisted. I hoped he knew how hard it was for me to leave.
I made my way back toward Dru and the other boys. Before I could get there, Dru’s ambulance pulled out, threw on its lights and left the scene. “WAIT!” I screamed at the tail lights that were leaving without me. I called Kirstyn’s name and she came from nowhere. We ran down the street to our car, moving in sync, sharing the same frightened heartbeat that pounds in the chest of every person who senses they are on the verge of losing someone they love. Off in the distance, I heard the siren, that horrible sound that tells you someone is in trouble. This time it was my son.
A second ambulance pulled out and I swung my car in behind it. Together we raced down the highway. Lights were on inside and I could see the medic working over the third boy. That left Cecil at the scene. I expected to hear the cry of the ambulance that carried him come from behind at any minute, but it never did.
At the E.R. we ran through some doors and were made to wait with the other families. Another siren arrived. “That’s probably Dad,” Kirstyn said, without moving. I imagined him dying before they could get to him. I prepared myself for raising a son who could no longer walk or move on his own. Every minute was long enough to imagine a lifetime of horrors.
Eventually a nurse came in and told us we could go back and see everyone. The families pushed through the doors and down the hall to where the children were lying in beds. There were no tubes or monitors, no life-saving dramas. After having seen the wreckage, it was difficult to fathom but, apparently, there was no urgency for any of them. The pall of disaster began to drift away. I settled Dru into his bed and asked him what happened.
“A car came from the other direction and Dad moved over to make room and our tires went off into a ditch and Dad turned the wheel real hard to stay on the road and the truck started going crazy. We flew off onto grass and went into trees, and then flipped over. It happened really fast.”
The boys were in a room that formed the dead end of the hall. From their door I could see the entire hallway. While Dru was talking, I looked down the hall at police officers who were scampering about. One of them disappeared with an air of secrecy into a small room. They all seemed up to something.
I left the boys’ room and headed toward the activity. A voice was talking in hushed tones behind the closed door of the small room. It was one side of a conversation; someone was on the telephone. The door opened and an officer came out. He averted his eyes and walked into another room a couple doors down. I followed on his heels and found Cecil standing there.
He seemed basically stable. There was a large bloody area on the left side of his head. Blood vessels had obviously burst in his eyes because they looked like road maps. He was still somewhat dazed, but he had his wits about him. “They want a blood sample,” he said, as I walked in. “They’re charging me with DUI.”
“DUI?” I stared at the officer. “He was swimming with the boys at the lake!”
“Dr. Knox,” the officer continued, as though I were not in the room. “Will you consent to a blood test?” It was odd that the guy called him Doctor Knox. Why didn’t he call him Mister like everyone else who doesn’t know him enough to know he’s a doctor?
I struggled to remember some remnants of criminal law and asked if they’d offered Cecil a breathalyzer, like they're supposed to. No, they hadn’t. They wanted a blood sample now and, if I didn’t mind, would I please step back. Yes, I did mind. In fact, since they were about to place Cecil under arrest, I would now be acting as his attorney and they were not to speak directly to him again.
I asked the basis of their professed belief that Cecil had been drinking. The officer seemed to squirm the slightest bit. He wasn’t at liberty to discuss that with me at this time. They just wanted a blood sample.
It’s common for different law enforcement agencies to work together. Badges and vests from a number of agencies had come through the door when they’d raided Cecil’s office and our house. Now, these guys were asking for blood. Visions of agents switching vials–or infusing Cecil’s–crept into my mind. I asked about the chain of custody of the sample. More squirming. He wasn’t at liberty to discuss that, either.
“Then Dr. Knox is not prepared to give you a blood sample. I’d like a few minutes with my husband, please.” The officer and the nurse left the room. I turned to Cecil. “If you refuse a sample they’ll suspend your driver’s license for a year. But I don’t trust them. I think they’re talking to the feds in that room. The feds would love to come up with a report that says you’ve got drugs in your system. What do you want to do?” Cecil insisted he hadn’t been drinking and that he wasn’t concerned about his blood alcohol level.
I was still suspicious. Once they had his blood we would lose control of the situation. What if they just flat-out falsified the report? They’d shown up at our door with a battering ram and rifled through crawl spaces in the basement. They’d threatened patients who didn't want to cooperate in setting Cecil up. I had no idea what these guys were capable of doing and they were refusing to tell me who would take custody of the blood sample.
Cecil sat and stared off for a few seconds. “Okay. Tell ‘em no blood.” I opened the door to talk to the police officer and he all but fell into the room, standing just a little too close. “There will be no sample, officer.”
On October 25th Cecil was tried on a DUI charge, as well as his refusal to consent to a blood alcohol test. Reckless driving had been thrown in for good measure. All of this generated publicity, something we would later have to get used to. To no one’s surprise, sitting in the back of the courtroom were the feds’ lead investigator and his side kick, notebooks in hand, ready to take it all down.
The prosecutor put a police officer on the witness stand, then offered the Implied Consent Form into evidence. This was the document that showed Cecil had refused to give a blood sample. The judge took the form. “This is a copy, Counselor. Where is the original?”
The prosecutor didn’t spend much time looking through his file. “I’m sorry, Your Honor, but I don’t have the original.”
“If you don’t have the original, I am dismissing the Refusal. You can’t prosecute on a copy.” It was a technicality, an evidentiary ruling. The judge seemed irritated. He had a “You know this as well as I do” tone in his voice. In the end, the judge dismissed the DUI and the Refusal, and took the Reckless Driving under advisement. He ordered Cecil into VASAP, which is an alcohol education program. It was an affront, but better than losing his license for a year.
As we left the courtroom, I saw that the agents had disappeared. Cecil looked at their empty seats and took my hand. “I’ll bet I know who has the original.”
I understood at that moment what, and who, we were dealing with. And deal with them we did, for the next five years.