Chaplain died of drug overdose — (The Salisbury Post)

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The Salisbury Post

By Rose Post, the Salisbury Post

August 11, 2002

Toxicology report shows prescription drugs; no ruling on whether it was accident or self-inflicted.

The Rev. Brit Baldwin, 47-year-old staff chaplain at the Hefner VA Medical Center, died of a drug overdose, according to a state toxicology report.

But investigators still have not determined if the overdose was accidental or self-inflicted, according to Dr. Gary Fink, Rowan County medical examiner.

Fink received the toxicology report from the N.C. Medical Examiner’s office in Chapel Hill, but full autopsy results have not yet been released.

Baldwin’s unexpected death at his home in Granite Quarry on June 8 shocked the hospital staff and patients with whom he worked.

 Fink said the test of Baldwin’s blood found two drugs — methadone and Celexa. The cause of death “is going to be a drug overdose, most likely methadone.”

“Both,” he said last week, “are legal drugs. Both are prescription drugs.

“Methadone is commonly used to treat chronic pain syndrome by pain specialists and people working with chronic pain. It is also used to help people at heroin maintenance clinics where people are being treated for heroin addiction. Celexa is an anti-depressant.”

An initial screening found the drugs in Baldwin’s blood, but state officials are now using more extensive tests to make sure.

The state averages four to six weeks for full autopsies.

It has been longer this time, he says, for a number of reasons. The state is changing systems. Rowan County autopsies are now being performed in Charlotte, not Chapel Hill.

“A lot of things were going on at that time,” he says. “There’s nothing unusual about his autopsy report not being available yet. It has nothing to do with what he died of” because only two pathologists in the Chapel Hill office did the whole state of North Carolina and they have a very small staff.

“I have no idea when it will come,” he says, adding that it “probably won’t tell us anything else. The thing that’s left to decide is how we sign the death certificate — whether is was accidental or suicide — and that’s a determination the police department makes.

“… If there is no evidence of suicide, and to my knowledge there wasn’t, no suicide note or anything, then we’ll consider his death a drug overdose.”

Initially, investigators found no obvious cause of death, Fink  said, and autopsies are routinely performed on anyone under 55 when there is no obvious cause of death.

In people over 55, he said, heart disease is more common.

The case is still under investigation by the Granite Quarry Police Department.

“I think he had everything to live for, and there were no notes,” said Granite Quarry Police Sgt. David Holstein, who is handling the case, “so I’m leaning toward accidental right now.”

Baldwin, who was ordained as a Southern Baptist minister in 1982, served as pastor and associate minister at various churches in North and South Carolina and had been chaplain resident and pastoral fellow for the S.C. State Mental Health Department.

He’d been on the hospital’s chaplaincy staff since 1997 and was also choir director and minister when needed at Second Presbyterian Church.

He was found dead in his bed by his sister, Gay Rhodes, who was living with him at the time. She has now moved from his home in Granite Quarry.

His death prompted an outpouring of grief for the chaplain, who was consistently referred to with superlatives.

Many said he was a “great guy,” a chaplain who was devoted to the veterans, devoted to his faith, and respected by his peers and the chaplaincy community outside the VA.

Contact Rose Post at 704-797-7-4251 or rpost@salisburypost.com.