Wake County

Cocaine and synthetic drug aided in Wake County man’s death from the cold, medical examiner says

A man found dead in a ditch alongside Old Stage Road on Nov. 8 died of hypothermia, but he was intoxicated by cocaine and a relatively new synthetic drug that is a stimulant like the drug known as “bath salts,” according to a report from the State Medical Examiner's Office.

Kevin Edward Thomas, 34, was found after a passerby who first reported someone lying in the ditch to 911 about 7 a.m. repeated the call in the early afternoon and stopped to look at the man.

The caller told dispatchers in the morning call that the man he saw was moving, but slowly. He was hard to see from the road, the caller said. He said he was past the man before he realized what he had seen and made the call.

The Wake County Sheriff’s Office said deputies and Garner first responders searched in the area near the Green Spring Valley mobile home park after the call, but did not see Thomas.

When the passerby called the second time, he was with Thomas and told dispatchers he was sure Thomas was dead.

When authorities found Thomas, he was wearing a wet tank top and pants, the medical examiner’s report said. He had fluid in his lungs, had a history of substance abuse and had a hypodermic needle in his pocket, the report said.

The report said that while Thomas died from the cold when the temperature had fallen to 43 degrees in the area, the “contributing condition” was “acute cocaine and n-ethylpentylone intoxication.”

Thomas’ brother said authorities should have done more to find his brother while he apparently was alive.

“If they would have just got out the car and walked around, then Kevin’s kids wouldn’t be fatherless right now,” Cody Thomas, 24, of Raleigh said Nov. 16. “They probably could have saved his life.”

Journal reports by toxicologists last year stated that n-ethylpentylone is a relative new derivative from a class of drugs called synthetic cathinones, the active ingredient in bath salts.

The National Institutes of Health says that synthetic cathinones are much more potent than the natural version found in the khat plant that grows in East Africa and southern Arabia.

“Synthetic cathinones are part of a group of drugs that concern public health officials called ‘new psychoactive substances,’” the NIH says on a website it runs about drug abuse.

Those substances, the NIH says “are unregulated psychoactive mind-altering substances with no legitimate medical use.” They are changed and new ones are invented to stay ahead of drug laws, the agency says.

Sheriff Donnie Harrison said investigators try to find out where someone got drugs that killed them or contributed to their death. The death makes that process problematic, however, Harrison said.

Ron Gallagher: 919-829-4572, @RPGKT