Anthony Fennick’s mother says the autopsy report on her son’s untimely death in hospital after a brief illness that rapidly degraded his health while he was at the Flagler County jail in February vindicates what she has believed all along: that an allergic reaction to an antibiotic and the jail health provider’s negligence and ridicule of Fennick’s condition, day after day, led to his stroke, his coma and eventually, his death.
“People need to realize that if it was not because of that medication, the neglect and ignoring him and ridiculing him for five days, he wouldn’t have had that,” Erika Williams said of her son, who died at 23 on Feb. 8 at AdventHealth Palm Coast, after a four-day coma. By then he had lost all brain functions, and had been kept alive a few extra days only to allow family to arrive from out of town. “He didn’t have a stroke out of nowhere. It was caused by their action. It was caused by their neglect, it was caused by them treating him like less than a freakin’ animal. That’s why he got that. He didn’t get it on his own. He didn’t get it on his own.”
Fennick had been in drug court until January when, violating his probation, he was sent to the local jail where he was to serve just over four months. At the beginning of February he was treated for what seemed like a small infection on the neck–Fennick may have mentioned spider bites–with an antibiotic, Bactrim, but quickly deteriorated, speaking to his mother day after day of a worsening fever and becoming disoriented, lethargic and ultimately unresponsive, when he was finally taken to the hospital. He never saw a doctor until then, despite asking for one.
The Sheriff’s Office contracted with Armor Correctional Health at the time. The company denied any wrong-doing. Sheriff Rick Staly fired Armor two weeks after Fennick’s death and hired Southern Correctional Medicine three months later (Armor remained on the job until May), meanwhile conducting a criminal investigation, which has been ongoing but slow-paced because of the pending medical examiner’s report.
That report was completed on July 31 and submitted to the State Attorney’s Office, according to the News-Journal’s Matt Bruce, who obtained a copy and was first to report on its substance.
Sheriff’s Office investigators and the medical examiner met today to go over the nine-page report, the Sheriff’s Chief Mark Strobridge said.
“We received the medical examiner’s report,” he said, “our investigators are reviewing it with the medical examiner so they have a full understanding as part of their criminal investigation.” Once the criminal investigation is completed, the agency will conduct an internal investigation regarding its own procedures during the Fennick matter.
The report, Strobridge said, “is another step to get closer to the truth in the investigation.”
The report attributes Fennick’s death to “natural causes,” according to the News-Journal, that cause being “anoxic ischemic encephalopathy” due to “cerebral venous sinus thrombi”–in other words, a stroke caused by blood clots. Strokes among 23 year olds are not common, nor usually associated with a “natural” death.
Fennick had had a seizure at the jail but was conscious when wheeled out and to the hospital, where medical personnel performed a spinal tap to rule out meningitis. As they were doing so, he had the stroke and was lifeless for several minutes, coding for around nine minutes, according to people familiar with the incident. His heart was revived, but he never regained consciousness. Williams, who was made privy to the report, said the spinal tap had “nothing to do with it.”
“He flatlined with the spinal tap, but by the time he got to the hospital it was already too late, because when he got to the hospital he already had the brain swelling and the fluid on the brain,” Williams said. “If the spinal tap would have shown anything, the medical report would have shown it.”
Part of the derision Anthony Fennick endured in the days of his coma and after he died from whispered assumptions at the jail and elsewhere were claims that he may have again had access to narcotics at the jail. The autopsy shows no trace of illegal drugs, only Benadryl and ativan, the anti-anxiety prescription drug. It shows no trace of any illness, no disease.
Deanna A. Oleske, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Feb. 11 and reviewed its substance with authorities, “said the symptoms were part of an allergic reaction to the Bactrim and the Benadryl actually made Fennick prone to becoming even more dehydrated,” according to Bruce’s report. “The doctor said Fennick’s lack of hydration combined with the infection and tobacco usage made him more susceptible to blood clotting. She did not rule out genetics as a potential contributor, saying a ‘familial clotting disorder’ may have played a role.”
Oleske also cited kidney stones, a detail Williams had brought up when authorities queried her about Fennick’s medical history, but Williams said kidney stones could not have had anything to do with it, either–nor, she said, had he been “hospitalized” for kidney stones a couple of months before his death, as the medical examiner’s report notes, saying he’d merely gone to the emergency room and was prescribed Flomax. “It shouldn’t be relevant at all,” Williams said.
Williams said she was “happy” with the autopsy report, because it delved deeper than a strict cause of death, seeking to trace back to what she termed as “the causes of the cause of death.”
“The autopsy report just verified everything that I knew. It just verified and there’s no doubt now that what caused my son’s final cause of death was that medication,” Williams said.
The next step, she said, should be accountability. Williams ran into the sheriff at a July 4 event–after chasing him and raising her voice to stop him, she claims–, the first time the two had spoken directly since Fennick’s death. She said she accepts his stance on accountability, but “If that’s what you said then, it’s time to show how,” Williams said. “You’re going to make sure you’re going to find something, something, some kind of criminal negligence on these people. I don’t want to hear that it’s just a civil suit. I don’t want to hear this. I know damn well that if this was any of their children, if any of their children went through this, they would find something, something would work.”
Fennick had a daughter. She is about to turn 3. Williams and her husband have custody. She was recently enrolled in a play therapy group. “All she does it ask about him,” Williams said. “Every single day Every day.” Her grandmother reassures her, telling her that her father is always present. The girl would get frightened during thunderstorms. Her grandmother would calm her, telling her it’s her father having a roaring coughing fit. When it rains, “he’s watering her flowers to make them pretty.” When it’s sunny, “he’s cleaning up the park.”
“He’s always here, He’s always in your heart,” the girl’s grandmother tells her.