By Erica C. Barnett
The 911 call to which Seattle police officer Kevin Dave was allegedly responding when he struck and killed student Jaahnavi Kandula in a marked crosswalk was not, as police and fire officials have implied, an opiate overdose that had to be reversed by paramedics under police supervision. In fact, a single aid car responded to the caller, who was lucid and alert when he dialed 911, and was finished within about 20 minutes. The call came from an apartment building 6th Ave. North, a few blocks from where Dave struck Kandula on Dexter Ave. on the night of January 23.
At first, SPD said Dave (who they did not initially identify) was responding to an emergency “at the request of” Seattle Fire Department first responders; later, they said he was heading to the scene “alongside” SFD. After SPD, in response to questions from PubliCola, said the call was an overdose, the Community Safety and Communications Center told us that police are dispatched to overdoses as a matter of longstanding policy. Later, Police Chief Adrian Diaz said Dave was responding “as an EMT” to a medical emergency.
In mid-February, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins repeated this explanation in a letter to the Community Police Commission, saying “overdose patients can become violent” after an overdose reversal, which can send an overdose victim into withdrawal. Officials from the fire department elaborated on this statement to PubliCola, saying they need police present when responding to overdoses because people revived from opiate ODs may have used stimulants like meth, whose effects come on in full force once the opiate overdose is resolved. They also said that other people on the scene can threaten or steal items from paramedics working to revive an overdose victim.
“I’m just trying to breathe right now and I’m trying to not freak out,” the man says. “It’s hard to think.” The dispatcher says he’s sending an aid car and tells the man to “flag them down” when he sees them.
But a review of the 911 call that resulted in Dave’s response—which PubliCola obtained, along with the incident report, through a record requests—reveals that the person who called in to report the “overdose” was a man who had walked down from his apartment and into the street to call 911 about what he thought might be a drug-related medical emergency.
In the call, which the fire department partially redacted, the caller is lucid, rational, and a bit frantic; he gives his full address and says he’s “freaking out” and having trouble staying calm. The caller sounds like he’s overstimulated, not overdosing on an opiate like fentanyl, as both police and fire have repeatedly implied.
“I’m just trying to breathe right now and I’m trying to not freak out,” the man says. “It’s hard to think.” After hearing more about the man’s symptoms, the dispatcher asks him if he’s been through this before and if he has any other relevant medical history or complications; the man answers no. Then the dispatcher says he’s sending an aid car and tells the man to “flag them down” when he sees them.
An aid car is the lowest level of response to a drug-related call like this one. A spokesman for the fire department confirmed that the department sends one aid car staffed with EMTs trained in basic life support when a person is having a “suspected overdose” and is awake, as this caller was. The department sends an additional advanced life support medic unit with two additional paramedics when the person is awake and has a “confirmed overdose,” and sends two basic life support units and an advanced life support unit when the overdosing person is “unconscious, unresponsive, and not breathing normally,” the spokesman said.
Overdose deaths from stimulants are less common than deaths due to opiates, but they do happen; last year, according to the King County Department of Public Health, there were 158 stimulant-related overdose deaths, and there have been 18 this year so far.
A police department spokesperson did not respond to questions about SPD’s policy about driving practices when responding to a low-level drug call like this one. Nor have they responded to questions about how fast Dave was driving or whether he was taking reasonable care when he struck and killed Kandula in a marked crosswalk a few blocks away. “I am not able to share any further information than what’s already been shared since this is an open case,” the spokeswoman said.
The man who placed the initial call declined to comment.