Carson's heroin connection: Hidden addiction

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Since January, Linda Barr is painfully aware of every Friday morning and marks the passage of time by the 23rd of each month.

February 23 " One month since her husband found their 21-year-old daughter Kelly overdosed on heroin.

March 23 " Two months since the blond-haired smiling child of Linda and Ron was lying unresponsive in the pink bedroom she'd had since she was 11.

April 23 " Three months since Kelly was pronounced dead on the floor of the family's tidy two-story south Carson City home as her father, mother and brothers panicked around her.

How does a girl who attended kindergarten through senior year in Carson City " a girl who never got in trouble in high school, who had an intact family, lived in a beautiful home, whose pictures hang above the fireplace and parents sleep across the hall " become addicted to heroin and die?

Linda Barr doesn't know. Nor does Kelly's grief-stricken father, who dragged his daughter's lifeless body from her bed and onto the floor in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 23 and tried in vain to save her.

They don't know how it happened, but they know that it did happen, and the Barrs are hoping their story will help other families.

Even in Carson City, they said, no one is immune.

The signs emerge

In June 2008, Deputy Dan Ochsenschlager received a tip that almost every day the same two adults adults sat on a curb off Coronet Way and smoked something.

Ochsenschlager checked out the spot; it was littered with bits of burned foil and pieces of colorful rubber.

The Sheriff's Office had been encountering these balloons with increasing frequency in the last year. Ochsenschlager knew heroin was sold in balloons and smoked off foil. Users would pinch off a bit of the sticky, tar like substance, put it onto the foil, and hold a lighter underneath. Then, with a straw in their mouth, they'd chase the bubbling ball of heroin, inhaling the smoke off the foil. The proof was everywhere along that curb near Little Lane.The tipster gave Ochsenschlager a license plate number. It was registered to Kelly Barr. Ochsenschlager drove to Barr's home to confront her.

Kelly wasn't home at the time, but her mother was. Ochsenschlager laid out the truth: "I said, 'I think you need to know something. Your daughter's doing heroin.'"

"I gave her my cell number and told her she could call me back to the house if she needed me," Ochsenschlager said. "But Kelly's mom thought she could handle the situation herself."

Linda Barr had suspected Kelly was doing something illicit. She'd lost weight in recent weeks and didn't seem herself.

But the Barrs said they were looking for signs of methamphetamine abuse. Yet Kelly wasn't hyper. She didn't have the telltale scars of meth use. She was sleeping and eating.

After the deputy left, Linda and her sons drove around, looking for Kelly. They found her sitting in her car, outside of her job, with a boy she'd been dating. They confronted her, and Kelly admitted to her family she'd been smoking dope.

"We got her home after a struggle and it just got out of hand," recalled Linda.

She pulled out the deputy's number and called him back.

When Ochsenschlager returned he arrested Kelly for possessing foil with heroin residue and straws through which to inhale the smoke.

"Kelly told me she has a severe heroin addiction and is smoking up to seven balloons of heroin a day," Ochsenschlager wrote in the report.

Working the programs

After she got out of jail, Kelly spent 30 days in a Lake Tahoe rehabilitation center, her mother said, then enrolled in a drug program at the Community Counseling Center where she received regular urine tests.

Still nervous about her daughter's recovery, Linda said she found some comfort in knowing that Kelly seemed to be working her programs and doing well. Kelly had put on weight and was not sleeping as much, so the family thought she was clean.

But in October, Kelly was arrested for violating her probation by drinking. The Barrs left their daughter in jail for 30 days.

"When she was in jail, that was the best I ever slept," said Linda.

Kelly was released from custody right before Thanksgiving. In December she passed another urine test at the Community Counseling Center, said Linda. A home visit by Carson City Alternative Sentencing was uneventful.

Things seemed to be good. Kelly talked about not wanting to use and not really feeling like she was addicted to heroin, said Linda. Kelly thought of the use as more of a social thing.

The coverup revealed

Linda last saw her daughter alive on Jan. 22, the night before her death.

"She came home from work laughing and talking and telling us she was being good," said Linda.

As Ron and Linda headed to bed about 8 p.m. that night, Kelly told her mother she was going out. Her parents told her to be home by 11.

Cell phone text messages accessed by police after her death indicate that Kelly was home on time. They also reveal that she was still using.

About 11 p.m., Kelly sent a message that she'd just gotten home and was getting ready to "smoke," according to the police report.

In messages earlier in the day, friends asked Kelly how her urine test went. She replied that she'd used a friend's urine and passed.

Other messages talked about "H" and she asked someone to get her "two points for $40," the report states.

"The last text message sent by Kelly was at 11:29 p.m.," wrote Detective Dena Lacy in the report. It was sent to a 16-year-old boy who later revealed to investigators that he'd gotten heroin for Kelly earlier in the day and the two smoked it together in a car down the street from Kelly's house.

Kelly's boyfriend, who told investigators that he was a recovering heroin addict, said Kelly had been at his house until 10:30 p.m. watching a movie.

"He told her he could not be involved with her as long as she was using. He said she told him she did not use a lot and this was the last time. (He) said he'd heard that before from her," the report states.

They hadn't suspected

Ron Barr woke up for work about 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 23. From the hallway he could hear Kelly's television and see light underneath the door.

Ron opened the door to turn off the TV and saw Kelly lying on her bed. A normally light sleeper, she did not move at all when he entered the room, he told investigators.

Next to her on the bed was a Bic lighter, foil with burned residue and a plastic straw.

Linda said her husband's screams woke her.

When Deputy Nate Brehm arrived, Ron was in the room with his daughter. The two men pulled her onto the floor and attempted to do CPR, Brehm said. Paramedics arrived and took over the resuscitation attempts.

"The paramedics worked to save Kelly's life for about 30 minutes but were not able to revive her," Brehm wrote in his report.

"Things were going good for her," Brehm said recently. "They hadn't suspected any drug use at all. She'd been struggling with some addiction problems, but they thought she pretty much had it beat."

Flaws in the system

Linda is angry that finding affordable help for her daughter seemed nearly impossible. She's angry that the drug testing Kelly underwent was so easy to cheat. She's upset that charges won't be brought against the 16-year-old who admitted getting heroin for Kelly on the night she died and that Kelly was released from jail after her last arrest without having to post bail, even though her family left her in there to help her.

"The system here has a lot of flaws. They need to fix it," said Linda.

But both Linda and Ron struggle with their own guilt over not saving their daughter.

"Parents, you've got to take matters into your own hands," said Ron. "We do have to be aware of everything."

"If they are living in your home, parents should be drug testing," Linda added. "We were so confident she was OK because she was doing drug testing at the counseling center."

"I don't blame anyone for Kelly's illness," said Ron.

"I just wish we'd had longer to get her clean," Linda said.

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