Record of Investigation into Death (Without Inquest)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Stephen Raymond Carey, Coroner, having investigated a death of Dale Robert Apted
FIND THAT :
(a) The identity of the deceased is Dale Robert Apted (“Mr Apted”);
(b) Mr Apted died on 5 June 2012 at 6 Huon Court, Rocherlea;
(c) Mr Apted was born in Melbourne, Victoria on 18 March 1971 and was aged 41 years;
(d) Mr Apted was in a defacto relationship and at the time of his death was in receipt of Commonwealth benefits;
(e) Mr Apted died as the result of morphine intoxication;
(f) At the time of his death Mr Apted was not being treated by a medical practitioner;
(g) No other person contributed to Mr Apted’s death.
CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE DEATH :
Mr Apted moved to Tasmanian in 1989 with his family which included his mother, Annette Kathleen Taylor and his father, Miles Alwyn Apted and his three siblings, Ricky Wayne Apted, Kylie Sherree Cowling and Tammy Lee Apted. In this early period in Tasmania, Mr Apted was employed and resided variously with partners he may have had at the time or alternatively with his family. After about 12 months living in Tasmania, Mr Apted’s mother and father moved back to Melbourne. Mr Apted, with his partner, Rachael Piesley, returned to Melbourne also. On 7 June 1992, Mr Apted’s son, was born in Melbourne. A few months later Mr Apted and his partner moved back to George Town and when their son was 6-9 months old, Mr Apted and Mrs Piesley married in George Town. Mr Apted and his wife moved to Bridgewater; however when their son was approximately 2 years old, their relationship ended. There was an issue concerning custody of their son which eventually was determined in favour of Mr Apted’s wife.
In approximately 1999 Mr Apted’s elder brother, died as a result of a drowning whilst working on Flinders Island. Mr Apted lived with his parents in the period 2000/2001 and at that time entered a relationship with Kate Barker to whom a daughter, was born, in 2002. When his daughter was only a few months old, Mr Apted and Ms Barker separated. In September 2004 Mr Apted’s father succumbed to a medical condition and died on 7 September 2004. Mr Apted’s mother suggests that the death of his brother and of his father both had a significant impact upon Mr Apted and contributed to a change in his lifestyle including the use of illicit drugs.
Approximately 7 years prior to his death, Mr Apted commenced a de-facto relationship with Tarabala Georgine Rettas. A child was born of this relationship, in 2011. During the period of this relationship Mr Apted received Commonwealth benefits in relation to his carer status for Ms Rettas who, due to an acquired brain injury, was unable to have control of her own financial affairs.
It is apparent from the police investigation that by this stage Mr Apted had a significant illicit drug habit including the injection of those drugs together with a significant respiratory problem associated with a long clinical history of asthma and emphysema. He continued as a heavy smoker despite strong advice to the contrary due to his lung condition.
I have been provided with a summary of the in-patient and out-patient attendances upon the Launceston General Hospital by Mr Apted during the period 2008 until 2012. These show a number of attendances and admissions in relation to episodes of significant breathing difficulties with indications of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. There are also indications of attendances where Mr Apted specifically sought opiate pain relief medication. Of particular note is an incident on 9 April 2012 when he was brought to the hospital by ambulance with acute asthma together with evidence of acute opiate intoxication. He was provided with an opiate antidote to aid his recovery. He stated at that time that he had crushed oxycodone (Endone) tablets and had injected them into his right arm.
The police investigation, which includes statements from associates of Mr Apted confirm he was a heavy drug user and that it would not be uncommon for people to attend his house for the sole purpose of injecting drugs. It was in fact summarised that he would inject anything that he could.
During the day of 4 June 2012, Mr Apted spent his time with his partner Tara Rettas. At approximately 5:00pm Mt Apted’s sister, Kylie Cowling, visited the house. She spent 15 minutes at the address and noted nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The police investigation has determined that some time between 9:30pm and 11:00pm, Mr Apted has left the lounge room where his partner and daughter were located and as this was not unusual his partner remained in the lounge room with her daughter. Ms Rettas notes:
“More recently Dale stopped injecting drugs in front of me, I didn’t like it done around my daughter however I had my suspicions that he was continuing to use drugs mainly because I found syringes around the house occasionally and I think he would go into the toilet to use.”
After a period of time (unable to be determined), Ms Rettas went looking for Mr Apted and found him slumped in a sitting position on the toilet. Ms Rettas has not reacted to this and at approximately 11:00pm Mr Aydain House and Ricki Williams attended the address for the purpose of injecting drugs. Ms Rettas advised them that Mr Apted was on the toilet and she could not wake him. Messrs House and Williams then prepared a tablet they had brought with them, injected the drug and then they determined to bring Mr Apted from the toilet to the kitchen floor. Although due to the possible effects of the drugs by those present there is some uncertainty of observations and recall it would appear that when Mr Apted was placed on the kitchen floor both in physical movements and perhaps signs of snoring those present accepted that he was asleep. Attempts were made to wake him up without success and he was then carried to his bed. Approximately 30 minutes to an hour later, Mr House went into the bedroom in order to say goodbye to Mr Apted. He noticed that Mr Apted appeared slightly purple in colour, there was vomit about his head and the bedding and he noted that he did not appear to be breathing. Messrs House and Williams then attempted CPR and an ambulance was called. Police were also notified and CPR endeavours continued by paramedics until it was determined that Mr Apted was dead.
As part of the post-mortem examination of Mr Apted a toxicology test was done of his blood which showed that he had recently administered morphine and the blood level was at the lower level of the reported fatal range. There was also an indication of recent use of cannabis. Both morphine and cannabis are both central nervous system depressants resulting in increased risk of respiratory and central nervous system depression occurring when used. This is particularly relevant given the compromised state of Mr Apted’s respiratory system. The post-mortem also showed that Mr Apted’s lungs showed signs consistent with a combination of reversible and irreversible chronic lung disease. He was noted to have “IV drug users lungs” which means large amounts of birefringent foreign matter was found in the lungs which comes from the intravenous injection of oral medications. There were also signs of some emphysema. The blood vessels in the lungs also showed signs of pulmonary hypertension.
The police investigation indicated that Mr Apted had self-injected 100mg of morphine and also had consumed some alcohol. He had a past history of IV drug use and asthma. The autopsy determined that he died of a morphine intoxication.
Comments and Recommendations:
Mr Apted clearly had a significant past history of illicit drug abuse including injecting of both liquid drugs and also drugs changed from tablet form. Given the compromised condition of his lungs the continuation of this practice placed him at significant risk and he does not appear to have heeded the warnings given by his medical advisors as to the continuation of this lifestyle. Unfortunately this outcome was identified as likely to occur unless Mr Apted changed his lifestyle in particular his use of illicit drugs by injecting and his smoking.
I have decided not to hold a public inquest hearing into this death because my investigations have sufficiently disclosed the identity of the deceased, the date, place, cause of death, relevant circumstances concerning how the death occurred and the particulars needed to register the death under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999. I do not consider that the holding of a public inquest hearing would elicit any information further to that disclosed by the investigations conducted by me.
Before I conclude I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the family of Mr Apted.
Dated: 11 November 2014 at Hobart in the state of Tasmania