When Jason Redmer entered a Huntington Beach residential detox center in April, he hoped it would help him finally get his life in order.
Hours earlier, the 28-year-old alcoholic had met with a private therapist, even making the call to the detox center from her office. Without insurance, Redmer had sold his truck, his only possession of monetary value, to pay for the detox. He was ready to start anew.
As his mom, Lynne, drove him to the West Coast Detox Center, he prayed God would take away the curse of alcoholism. He was positive and hopeful, according to his mom and counselor.
Eight months later, his case lies at the center of a state effort to shut down West Coast Detox.
Although an autopsy on Redmer still isn't complete (“They are awaiting toxicology,” said coroner spokeswoman Gail Krause), a state agency that licenses detox programs found several violations directly connected to Redmer’s death.
Don Ramsey, owner of West Coast Detox, declined to be interviewed for this story, saying only, “I would just hope they would let Jason and his family rest in peace.”
This is the story of Redmer's final days.
Jason Redmer’s visit to West Coast Detox wasn’t his first attempt to beat alcohol, according to his mom. The San Juan Capistrano man had detoxed several times before under the careful watch of a family doctor in a hospital setting.
So, in April, when he gathered up the courage to go through it one more time, he knew what to expect, Lynne Redmer said. In the hospital, he’d always been hooked up to an IV, and was monitored closely.
On April 12, Redmer went to visit his therapist, Patti Lee of San Juan Capistrano. He’d been drinking, but he was more buzzed than drunk, Lee said. He wasn't slurring his words and seemed in control of his actions.
He’d obviously been considering rehab for a while because the number for West Coast Detox was already programmed into his cell phone, said Lee, a marriage and family therapist.
During the visit, he called the detox center, and Lee said she overheard the entire conversation on Redmer’s end.
Will I see a doctor when I am there?
What type of medicine will I be receiving?
Lee said he must have been satisfied with the answers, because he left resolute about starting detox.
The rehab center’s staff insisted Redmer get himself from San Juan to Huntington Beach as quickly as possible, that very night even. He asked his mom to drive, and off they went.
When Lynne and Jason Redmer pulled up to the house on Yale Circle, they discovered the intake area was in the garage. While Jason toured the home and checked out the rooms, Lynne was confined to a couch in the garage.
There was very little medical information exchanged, and after giving her contact information, Lynne Redmer said she felt rushed out the door.
According to the state’s investigation, staff immediately started to dispense medication to Redmner, even though he had not seen a doctor and did not have a prescription. At 7:30 p.m., he was given Librium, a sedative. At 8:45 p.m., he took Phenobarbital, an anti-seizure drug. At 10:50 p.m., he received more Librium and also Temazepam, another sedative.
The next morning, he took Librium at 8 and Phenobarbital at 10:55. At 12:30 p.m., he finally saw a doctor, who retroactively prescribed the drugs he was already taking, according to the state.
One Last Conversation
Lynne Redmer next heard from her son on Saturday, April 14. He phoned her to report he was OK. He saw the doctor once, was on several medications and was snoring so loudly his roommate ditched him for the living room, she said.
Jason added that he was eating a baked potato, asked her to bring more clothes, then said he had to go.
“He wanted so desperately to complete the detox and start to turn his life around,” Lynne Redmer said.
It was the last time she would hear from him.
According to the state, on April 15, Jason Redmer made his way to the garage where the detox staff kept a stash of drugs in the attic. The supply was called the “dead meds” because they had been confiscated from previous patients.
Staff caught him with several pills in his hand and several prescription bottles, according to the state. Workers were able to figure out Jason Redmer ingested at least two “orange pills,” which they assumed were Suboxone, a medication containing a narcotic component, the state reported in legal papers.
West Coast staff “knew that [Jason Redmer] had ingested ‘dangerous drugs’ from the ‘dead meds’ collection, that [he] could have ingested more than two pills from the ‘dead meds,’ and that [he] had recently taken other ‘dangerous drugs’ which had been prescribed to him,” wrote a lawyer for the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs in her efforts to get West Coast Detox shuttered.
“However, [West Coast] failed to refer [Redmer] to necessary medical services to assess and treat [him],” attorney Millicent Tidwell wrote.
Instead, the staff decided to monitor him, Tidwell wrote.
Sometime between 8 and 9 a.m. on April 16, Lynne Redmer received the news every parent dreads. But it didn’t come from a personal visit or even a call placed from an office. She was called by a volunteer at the center as he drove in morning traffic.
She said she answered the phone to hear: “I’m sorry to say your son passed away."
The news was surreal. A friend handled further communication with the staff that day, as Lynne Redmer wasn’t up to the task.
Two days later, Ramsey, the center’s owner and executive director – whose online bio says he’s been in recovery since 1994 – finally made contact with Lynne Redmer.
What Ramsey didn’t know was that Lynne Redmer just happened to be at an appointment with the doctor who had tended to Jason for many years. The doctor, who asked not to be identified, fed her questions and took notes. (Ramsey did know the call was on speakerphone.)
Ramsey rambled a lot, Lynne Redmer said, and it was difficult to pull him back to the subject of her son.
Jason's brother, Chris, now 32, who was also in the room with his mother, agreed: "He just kept going on about himself and didn't show concern about Jason.”
Lynne added, “Chris and I had to keep interrupting him to ask what happened to Jason. It was like Ramsey didn't seem to get it that Jason passed away at his facility.”
Eventually, Ramsey tried to blame the death on Jason’s addiction, Chris said. It was probably his liver, Ramsey said. There was no mention of the extra medication to which Jason helped himself, he added.
Ramsey told them Jason had spent most of his time at the center sleeping. On Sunday evening, he woke up long enough to enjoy a bowl of ice cream and watch a little TV. Then he went back to sleep.
At 6 a.m., a staff member making rounds found Jason sleeping. But by 6:30 a.m., the staff member discovered Jason had vomited dark blood and had a slight pulse. By 7 a.m., Jason was gone.
Lynne Redmer’s doctor scribbled on a note: Why 30 min. delay?
“We never did get an explanation,” Lynne Redmer said.
Police and fire records show a slightly different timeline. According to Huntington Beach police, the first call came in at 7:08 a.m. The next call came 22 minutes later, this time to investigate a death, Lt. Mitch O’Brien said.
According to Deputy Fire Marshal Bob Culhane of the Huntington Beach Police Department, a paramedic engine company was dispatched at 7:10 a.m. and arrived at 7:16.
“This unit did not transport a patient,” Culhane said. By 7:29 a.m., fire personnel were calling in the coroner.
Huntington Beach PD’s O’Brien told Patch this week that there was no pending criminal investigation of West Coast Detox. Krause, the spokeswoman for the coroner’s office, said the Orange County District Attorney may decide to pursue one after the autopsy is released.
Detox-related deaths aren't entirely unheard of, said Suzi Rupp, spokeswoman for the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.
“On average, we have approximately 15 deaths annually with clients enrolled in nonmedical residential facilities. These deaths may occur in the detox facility, the residential program or outside of the facility while the client is still enrolled in the program,” she said.
One factor is that such centers handle clients whose health may be compromised by addictions, she said.
Jason's mom sees something more sinister behind her son's death. While waiting for the coroner’s report, she wrote a letter this summer to a member of the coroner's staff:
We wonder why Jason was not able to wake up and call or help or try and save himself? We pray that your research will determine what happened to Jason. We hope that Jason wasn't on too many sedatives and that possibly prevented him from waking up when he started to vomit, or did something internally happen to one of his organs?
She’s still waiting for that report. But she finally has some answers from the state.
“When I found out [what happened] ... I was devastated,” Lynne Redmer said. Her son was in trouble, and the staff did nothing.
“They didn’t call the doctor, they didn’t call me, and then he receded more and more.”