THE INVESTIGATORS: Family raises questions over lack of autopsy in loved one’s overdose death
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The final moments of Dylan McClendon’s life were captured in a 911 call for help as those around him scrambled to alert first responders. By the time Dylan’s roommate at a sober living home on Antioch Blvd. got through to dispatchers, he thought Dylan had passed away.
“I believe my roommate is dead from an overdose,” the roommate told a dispatcher. “[There’s] no pulse, it’s over with.”
Audio from the chilling 911 call comes at the end of a life marred by drugs, said Dylan’s mother Regina Hebert. However, as Hebert looks back on her son’s life, she says his battle with drug addiction is not what she’ll remember about her son.
“Dylan was a fun-loving child. He did not have any enemies, and everybody loved him,” she said.
Hebert thinks Dylan’s habit started with alcohol and quickly spiraled into something more. By 2018 she said Dylan realized he had a problem and sought help getting clean. His family turned to professionals at the sober living home, and it appeared Dylan was getting better.
That’s until things took a turn one night in 2018.
Hebert says she was told Dylan and a few other young men at the sober living home had taken drugs. Hours later, her son was dead.
“We don’t really know how he died. Because of all the conflicting stories, everyone involved, nobody was on the same page,” she said.
Hebert thinks results from an autopsy would have helped her family get answers about which drugs were in his system that night, and how much of the drug he was exposed to. And, according to state law, coroners are directed to perform an autopsy when “reasonable probability that the violation of a criminal statute” is suspected in a person’s death. Hebert believes officials with the East Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office violated that law because an autopsy was never performed.
“I mean, 75 to 80 percent of our questions could be answered if we had an autopsy. I don’t know why an autopsy wasn’t done,” she said.
Dylan’s stepmother, Shannon McClendon, agrees.
“Because of the failure of the coroner’s office to perform this autopsy, we’re now faced with who answers for this? You know, where is the justice for Dylan? We’re left with all these questions that can’t be answered due to lack of duties on their part,” said McClendon.
Figuring out whether an autopsy should have legally been performed in this case is no simple task.
Officials from the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office, which handled the death investigation, say the law is not written in such a way that death investigators are legally bound to perform autopsies in cases similar to Dylan’s.
When asked for clarification, the coroner’s office got its attorney involved. Their lawyer tells WAFB that there are other ways to determine a preliminary cause of death, which includes taking urine samples. In an email to a private investigator hired by McClendon’s family, a spokesman from the coroner’s office said those methods were approved after someone in the office updated guidelines back in 2017 to address an explosion in overdose cases. That same spokesman also said the office is limited on the amount of overdose cases it examines each year, and when reviewing those cases in addition to dealing with the rising number of homicides, the workload has become overwhelming.
Dylan’s family said the coroner’s office’s explanation is unacceptable and they worry it could potentially create a situation where a death investigator’s bias sways them away from getting crucial evidence.
“I think there are so many drug overdoses. I believe that. I do. But I do feel like there is a stereotype as well. That [because] he was in a sober living home, he’s a drug addict. End of story,” said McClendon.
Four men who were with Dylan at the time of his overdose were arrested. One was charged with second-degree murder, but the charges were eventually dropped after a grand jury was convened but failed to indict them. Dylan’s family wonders if results from an autopsy would’ve made a difference.
It’s for that reason the family has retained a lawyer and has testified at Louisiana’s state capitol. They say Dylan and others like him deserve justice.
“Every parent deserves closure. Nobody deserves the questions that still linger three and a half years later in our head,” said Hebert.
“There are many things that were just overlooked, under investigated, fell through the cracks. We want some answers, and we want to be the voice for other people that this may happen to,” said McClendon.
Family members say they will not give up their fight to find answers or push for change. including potentially reworking the way the law is worded concerning autopsies performed after an overdose death.
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