When he wasn’t playing hockey or rugby, at work or in class, Dawn says the benches in front of Pen High is one of the spots her 17-year-old son, Chuck, used to hang out at before he died of a suspected overdose on April 2, 2017. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

A Penticton mother’s struggle with the overdose death of her son

The 17-year-old boy’s death is being investigated as one of Penticton’s four homicides last year

Editor’s note: Due to the legal nature of this case and the age of the victim, the Western News is protecting his identity, as well as those around him, including his mother and his girlfriend. Their names have been changed by the Western News.

When 17-year-old Chuck died, by what is believed to be an overdose, on April 2, 2017 the world lost a bit of compassion.

His mother, Dawn, called him a jack of all trades and a master of none, but as she continued talking, it became clear he was more of a jack of all trades and a master of many. For Dawn, that was best defined by one of his teachers.

On top of sports, Dawn says her son Chuck, who died of an overdose in Penticton last year, also had a talent for creation, including art, as well as more pragmatic things like welding.
Submitted photo
On top of sports, Dawn says her son Chuck, who died of an overdose in Penticton last year, also had a talent for creation, including art, as well as more pragmatic things like welding.

Illustration by Chuck

“One of things that he liked about Chuck is that he was everyone’s friend, as well. He could sit in the corner and play chess with somebody and be in the smoking pit talking to the smokers and then hang out with the jocks after school,” she said in an emotional interview. “He just got along with everybody.”

Related: Penticton woman connected to homicide arrested, released without charges

Beyond being a social chameleon, Dawn described innumerable talents. Often on the honour roll at Penticton Secondary, he was also a multiple-time MVP in hockey and had a knack for art and creating things.

By all indications, Chuck came from a loving, supportive home in a rural Penticton suburb. Nowhere is there any indication he had been addicted to any substance — in fact, it would appear more likely the night before he died, it was his first time taking an opioid.

While Chuck’s death has typically been called the fourth alleged homicide in Penticton last year in the media, in reality, it was the second.

But it was never revealed to the public until Supt. Ted De Jager with the Penticton RCMP spoke about it just before Christmas last year. That was eight months and 20 days after Chuck was pronounced dead just before 1 p.m. on April 2, 2017.

Related: Fourth homicide this year shrouded in mystery

The investigation involves a teen mere months away from high school graduation, whose parents thought he was at a friend’s place — not the home of his then-20-year-old girlfriend who, according to court documents, administered him with morphine prior to his death.

In fact, Dawn said she never even knew Chuck had a girlfriend — even asking him only a couple of weeks before he died whether he was dating anyone. It isn’t entirely clear why Chuck kept his girlfriend from Dawn, though she suggested the age difference could be a reason.

But be it with a girlfriend, a friend, or even someone he had few encounters with, Dawn said he left a footprint.

“He’s very much missed,” Dawn said through tears. “Chuck honestly thought that nobody really liked him. And he had 250 people attend his celebration of life. This was a kid that didn’t think that too many people liked him but made a huge impact to a lot of people in a lot of different ways.”

Related: Penticton’s overdose death rate most likely tops Kelowna’s

That was particularly true with children. At family gatherings, Dawn said Chuck would be the one to get down on the floor with the kids and play with them.

Among many skills, from art to scholastics, Dawn holds one of the precious keepsakes of her son who died last year in Penticton. She says her son had a talent for sports, playing both rugby and hockey with numerous accolades. 
Submitted photo
Among many skills, from art to scholastics, Dawn holds one of the precious keepsakes of her son who died last year in Penticton. She says her son had a talent for sports, playing both rugby and hockey with numerous accolades.

Submitted photo

“He would have been an excellent father.”

Since December, police have been silent, save for a February news release in which RCMP said Chuck’s girlfriend, Katie, was arrested and released without charges.

The Western News has learned details about the day of Chuck’s death through a copy of an information to obtain (ITO) — documents police submit to judges to apply for a search warrant. That document was filed April 2, 2017, the day Dawn’s son passed away.

Related: Overdose data policy may not comply with FOI law, expert says

B.C. Ambulance crews called police to a Penticton residence for assistance with a seizure, according to the ITO, which included reports from attending officers.

Katie was overwrought with emotion. At 12:50 p.m., 29 minutes after paramedics arrived, Chuck was pronounced dead, and Const. Dixon wrote that Katie “becomes very distraught and stops breathing momentarily.”

They took a five-minute break from the police interview, and some time after they resumed, Katie reportedly said, without prompting: “I feel really stupid, now. I should have known. I should have known.”

She was eventually allowed to leave to go to the hospital after her mother expressed concern for her mental health.

Related: South Okanagan front line workers say comments add insult to tragedy

In an interview with the Western News in February, front-line non-profit workers described their clients as the types to give away the shirt off their back — their only shirt, if a friend needed it. And that isn’t dissimilar from how Dawn describes her son.

While most parents struggle to convince their kids to take a few moments to take out the garbage or perform some chore, Dawn was one of the lucky few parents who rarely needed to ask.

One thing in particular that stood out for Dawn was a girl Chuck had come to be friends with online, who lived in Edmonton.

“She came all the way from Edmonton after he died to meet me because he had made such an impact on her life,” Dawn said. “I guess she was going through some tough times and was suicidal, and he talked her down or talked her back, whatever she was going through.”

Related: Penticton hospital fourth busiest in IH region for overdoses

Chuck, a 17-year-old boy from a rural Penticton suburb whose overdose death in April 2017 is considered by police to be one of four homicides in Penticton that year, excelled at sports, his mother says. Submitted photo
Chuck, a 17-year-old boy from a rural Penticton suburb whose overdose death in April 2017 is considered by police to be one of four homicides in Penticton that year, excelled at sports, his mother says.

Submitted photo

But what is particularly striking about Chuck’s case is his defiance of the image of the overdose crisis. Stock images of needles in streets and track marks on the arm accompany media stories about the crisis, but health professionals tell a different story.

More than half of all overdose deaths in B.C. in 2016 were in private residences, typically suggesting those individuals were not street entrenched, and often not necessarily addicted to substances.

In Chuck’s case, he came from a stable, loving home, with plenty of support. At the time of his death, he had been just two months away from graduation, something Dawn said he was excited about. Chuck had been considering his options — likely looking at becoming a psychiatric nurse — but Dawn said he was never worried about the future.

And when the police came to Dawn’s door to say Chuck had died, she and her husband thought it must have been a car crash before police confirmed that they believed it to be an overdose.

Related: Nine suspected fatal overdoses in five days

“Well, we were just beside ourselves because he didn’t do drugs. We couldn’t wrap our heads around it at all.

“It still seems very surreal. You watch it on TV and you think, ‘How do people go through that,’ and then you’re going through it and you’re thinking, ‘How am I going through it?’ You still have to go to work every day because you still have to pay the mortgage.”

So, how did Chuck, a teen with so many advantages, die of an apparent overdose?

The following is based on Const. Dixon’s account of Katie’s statement to police, which has not been proven in a court of law.

Chuck had been staying with Katie for a few days over spring break, returning home for one of those nights. He had fainted the night before, feeling sick with swollen tonsils and vomiting, and he hadn’t eaten.

The night before he died, Chuck asked Katie for some morphine, which she used for her own pain. She gave him “a little bit more” the morning he died.

Related: Penticton group, IH eyeing overdose prevention site

The morphine, which was not a prescription for Katie, came in tablet form and was melted down to be injected. Katie wasn’t sure how much morphine she gave Chuck the previous night, but because he didn’t know how to do it, she loaded the syringe for him.

Dawn says she had forgotten about Chuck’s talent at drawing until she spoke with the Penticton Western News about it. Pictured here, one of Chuck’s drawings of The Joker, a character from the Batman comics.

Illustration by Chuck

Katie believed Chuck took the morphine before her father left the house at about 11 a.m.

“They were sleeping in her bedroom, and Katie asked Chuck if he wanted to go to the bathroom. Chuck said yes, she helped him get up and that was the last time she talked with him,” the ITO said.

“They were walking to the door, Chuck started seizing, she put him on the floor, tried to help and she called 911.”

The ITO was filed, signed and approved by Judicial Justice David Schwartz, with a search conducted by 11 p.m. that day, during which 24 items were seized.

Related: More than 1,400 people died of overdoses in B.C. in 2017

That included a syringe loaded with an unknown substance, other paraphernalia, a notebook with notes on drug use, a red polka dot purse that paramedics had indicated Katie appeared to try to hide something in, a bag of 31 empty pill bottles for “varying prescribed meds” and depression medications, among other items.

It still is not clear if charges will be laid. Asked for comment, De Jager only said the police do not comment on ongoing investigations.

Meanwhile, for Dawn, it’s no easier now than it was nearly a year ago when Chuck died.

“The nights are hardest for me,” she said.

That was when she and Chuck had their daily talks. Chuck would come home from work or hockey, and Dawn was always the one staying up for him or going to pick him up. It might seem like a mundane interaction, but those moments were theirs.

“It’s those five-minute conversations here and there,” she said. “That’s what you cherish, now.”

Report a typo or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter


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