Florida man with Down syndrome dies in hot car after caregiver takes drugs and falls asleep

John LaPointe, 35, who had the cognitive abilities of a one-year-old, got baked in the car after Joshua Russell, 26, took the drug kratom and slept off at the wheel.


                            Florida man with Down syndrome dies in hot car after caregiver takes drugs and falls asleep
(Getty Images)
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A Florida man with Down Syndrome died in a hot car after his caretaker ingested the herbal supplement kratom, and according to authorities, overdosed and fell asleep. 

Joshua Russell, 26, was arrested on September 20 and charged with one count of aggravated manslaughter of a disabled adult in the death of John LaPointe, 35, on May 9 in Seminole, Florida, according to Pinellas County Sheriff's office. LaPointe was a group home resident where Russell worked. 

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"Let's call it what it is. This poor guy baked in that car", Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told a news conference. "I'm sure he had to suffer. It had to be absolutely horrific in that car for that man", the sheriff said. 

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Authorities believe that the temperature in the vehicle that day had reached to about 125 degrees. He added that LaPointe was non-verbal, unable to care for himself and had the cognitive ability of a 1-year-old.

At the same time, Gualtieri added that he was unsure why the heat did not affect Russell the same way it did LaPointe. 

Authorities were alerted to the death a little after 5.30 p.m. on May 9 when the agency received a call about an unresponsive man in a vehicle in Seminole, which is about 25 miles from Tampa. When assistance arrived, Russell wasn't at the scene and LaPointe had been pronounced dead.

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According to Gualtieri, Russell was found nearby with a gun threatening to kill himself. Afterward, he was eventually arrested and booked into the county jail on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. 

Apparently, the day that LaPointe died, Russell was supposed to take him to a doctor's in the group home's van, said a news release from the sheriff that day. After the doctor's visit, Russell stopped at his house for the kratom, the authorities said. 

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Kratom is derived from a plant that is native to Southeast Asia and is sold in capsules and powders with claims that it helps ease pain, anxiety and drug dependence, The Associated Press reported. According to officials, kratom produces an opioid-like high with the potential for addiction and abuse. Also that it causes euphoric effects similar to the opioid drugs behind the current nationwide overdose epidemic. 

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Joshua D. Russell (Image: Pinellas County Sheriff's Office)

Once he was back in the van, Russell got sick. He went back to his house, parked in the driveway and dozed off in the driver's seat while LaPointe was still seat-belted in the back seat according to the news release. Russell had said that the van had poor air conditioning and he didn't leave the car on because it would overheat. 

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After two-three hours when Russell woke up covered in sweat, he noticed "LaPointe was slumped over and unresponsive," the news release said. 

Gualtieri said Russell told detectives that he attempted CPR on LaPointe, but when it didn't work, he rushed into the house and grabbed a gun with the intention of killing himself. He then called his mother, got into the van and started to drive to a location where he thought his mother was. 

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It was Russell's mother who called 911 after meeting her son, according to Gualtieri. An autopsy revealed that LaPointe's cause of death was due to overheating. 

Russell was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on a $50,000 bond. The Crossroads of Pinellas group home didn't return a request for comment. 

"John has an infectious smile, angelic sweet gentle spirit and so enjoyed watching Barney cartoons on his tablet," it read. "John was a beautiful human being loved by all and will forever be in our hearts," LaPointe's family called his death a tragedy in an online obituary. He is survived by his parents, Lou and Lorrie Lapointe, his siblings, Mark, Paul, and Leanne Lapointe, three nephews, Nick, Mike, and Isaiah Lapointe, one niece, Oceana Lapointe and an extended family. 

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