Death ends life, but not relationships.
So it is with Carolyn Reed, who is still analyzing the events of the last 10 months to make sense of the complicated life and death of her daughter, Chuni Ann Reed.
Chuni Ann Reed, 47, has been a heroin user for many years. And to maintain her addiction, she sold crack from her top-floor apartment in Parkview Apartments, in the heart of the Central West End.
Then, in early February, everything collapsed. Federal authorities arrested and charged Reid for her role in the worst mass drug overdose in St. Louis history.
Eleven people overdosed – eight fatally – after consuming cocaine allegedly sold to them by Reed. The cocaine was contaminated with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than morphine.
Five months later, Reed herself died, the victim of a rare and undiagnosed disease.
Caroline Reed said she had known about her daughter’s drug problems for a long time and warned her many times to seek help.
“Because she is a drug addict, anything can happen,” she says. “She was always told: “You live this life, you know what comes with this life. You have to deal with the consequences when they come.”
At least officially, the case is closed with the death of Chuny Ann Reed: she died of an untreated aortic tumor that blocked the external carotid artery, blocking blood flow to her brain.
This is according to the coroner’s report, based on an autopsy performed shortly after her death.
At the time of her death, July 18, Reed was awaiting trial at the Three County Detention Center in Ullin, Illinois, about 150 miles southeast of St. Louis.
But is there a coroner’s report received RFT under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act—telling the whole story?
No, according to 30-year-old Donisha Blount, the second of Reed’s three daughters.
Shortly after her mother collapsed in Tri-County and subsequent transport to Mount Vernon Hospital, Blount says she received a Facebook message from a woman who said her best friend was Reid’s cellmate and witnessed happened when Reid passed out in the hallway leading to the prison infirmary.
Later, Blount spoke on the phone to an inmate who introduced herself as Chrissie Watts, Blount says.
Watts told her that on July 16, Reed collapsed from a heart attack.
Blount says that Watts told her she was calling security. “She had a heart attack, she had a heart attack. And no one came.”
Watts estimated that Reid lay on the floor in the hallway for about 20 minutes before prison officials came to her aid.
“And when they came, they kept her in the infirmary for four hours before they took her to the hospital,” Blount told her. “And this is very important, especially when you are dealing with a lack of oxygen in the brain. All it takes is seven minutes before it becomes critical.”
RFT could not independently verify whether Watts was an inmate at the Three County Detention Center at the time of Reed’s death.
A case of mass overdose in Parkview became the subject of Riverfront Times the cover story, the mid-July print edition of which appeared on the day Reed passed out in prison.
According to court documents, Reed was charged with “distributing cocaine base and fentanyl” and faced at least 20 years in prison if found guilty.
Dr. Christopher J. Kiefer, a forensic pathologist from Madisonville, Kentucky, performed Reid’s autopsy on July 24. He presented his report to Roger Hayes, coroner of Jefferson County, Illinois, on November 3. .
Kiefer’s report did not indicate the presence of drugs in Reid’s system at the time of her death, but noted a history of heroin use. Blount acknowledged that her mother used heroin and other opioids throughout her life.
Prison authorities were also aware of her drug history and other medical problems, but denied her access to decent medical care, Carolyn Reed said.
“But she had a health problem that everyone ignored the day she died,” she says. “Here’s the rub. She is going to seek medical attention. You all denied her medical attention.”
Kiefer’s report notes that Chuny Ann Reid “had a history of convulsions and death following stroke-like symptoms” and that she suffered from “hypertensive cardiovascular disease.”
Watts, an inmate, told Blount that every morning she joined a long line of inmates receiving medication for conditions such as diabetes. Despite Reid’s long history with hypertension, strokes and seizures, “I never saw your mom go there to join the line for medication,” Blount Watts told her.
Whether Reed received adequate care while incarcerated is still a matter of debate and may not be answered. The Criminal Investigation Division of the Illinois State Police began an investigation into Reed’s death a few days after her death.
Neil Luster, the Illinois police special agent leading the criminal investigation, says the case will remain open for a year after it was originally filed.
“There is no suspicion of foul play,” Luster says. “This case will remain open for a year. We do it according to the standard. All of our death investigations are like this, no matter what.”
Laster says Illinois state police investigators interviewed inmates who were there at the same time as Reed, but he declined to elaborate.
“I’m not going to discuss any details of the investigation, just the fact that we interviewed the prisoners as well,” Laster says.
Neither the prison staff nor the U.S. Marshals’ Service did anything to inform Reid’s family of her death. The only updates Blount said her family received were about her mother’s health and the cause of death. RFT writer, says Blount.
Reed never received professional help for her drug problems, which began when she was 17 years old.
“She just decided she didn’t want to do it,” Caroline Reed says of her daughter, who told others not to worry about her drug addiction, assuring the family she was keeping her under control. “Like children.”
Reid describes his late daughter as “very positive. She had a cheerful personality. Always smirking, laughing and joking.”
But behind the optimistic behavior was a deep pain, says Carolyn Reid.
“She had problems with her father,” she says, referring to Chuni Ann’s father, a professional soldier.
Her father rejected her because “she wasn’t good enough or didn’t do what he wanted her to do,” says Carolyn Reed.
More than 10 months have passed since the drug overdose that killed eight people, but until now, law enforcement officials have not spoken to Carolyn Reed, she says.
“They didn’t talk to me and I didn’t call them,” she says.
Chuni Ann Reed’s death is really hard on her 19-year-old daughter Emily, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy, is speechless and confined to a wheelchair, says Blount, who cares for Emily, her younger sister.
“So imagine that one day [our mom is] here, and now not,” says Donisha Blount. “It’s really hard for her to understand things like that.”
Mike Fitzgerald can be contacted at [email protected].
This project was completed with the support of a grant from the Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights at Columbia University in conjunction with Arnold Ventures.
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