Last November, a Google executive was found dead in the cabin of his yacht by the captain of the 50-foot vessel called Escape. The executive was Forrest Timothy Hayes, a 51-year-old Santa Cruz resident who formed part of the development and research division at Google X, an arm of the tech giant devoted to major advancements such as self-driving cars and wearable technology. When police arrived at the scene, they found a visible puncture on Hayes’ arm, but nothing to indicate what substance may have been used. The toxicology screen would later reveal heroin in his system.
Initially, the captain refused to tell police specifics relating to the events of previous night; he lied, saying that the surveillance cameras in the cabin of the Escape didn’t work. The Los Angeles Times reports that authorities have been relatively understanding about the captain’s reasons for obstruction: “The captain, who was not identified, catered to the rich and powerful, a client base that puts a high price on discretion, authorities said.”
The same understanding was not extended to the last person who saw Hayes alive, a woman police learned about after discovering that surveillance footage from the yacht was uploaded directly into a cloud service and issuing a warrant to the service provider. Among the feeds, they found footage from the cabin — footage that was sufficiently high-resolution to enable detectives to read the tattoos on the body of the woman who’d been with Hayes the previous night. According to Hayes’ e-mail and text logs, he had met the woman through SeekingArrangement.com — a site dedicated to connecting people with means to people with needs in mutually-beneficial relationships — and this wasn’t their first time together.
More sleuthing revealed the woman was a 26-year-old who went by the name AK Kennedy and used social media regularly to share her interests — tempestuous poetry, tattoos, makeup tutorials, music, television, partying, shopping, and monkeys — and to promote herself in the hopes of scoring modeling gigs. Kennedy, whose real name is Alix Catherine Tichelman, is the quintessential punk pin-up, a look popularized by SuicideGirls and BurningAngel — who served it up with a heaping side of that timeless allure: sex, drugs and rock and roll.
It is not certain how many times Hayes and Tichelman met or whether they always got together to party, but according to video footage, the two used heroin on the last night of Hayes’ life. Tichelman brought the heroin, filled the syringe, and administered the drug to herself before she did the same for Hayes. Heroin, like other opiates, decreases pain and induces a state of relaxation, but because it works on the central nervous system, it can cause a person’s breathing and heart rate to slow down to a dangerous point. The cause of Hayes’ death has not been reported, but video footage shows him raising his hand to his chest before sprawling on the floor, apparently unconscious. The impulse that brought the hand to his chest could have been a signal of trouble breathing or heart failure.
Of every ten heroin overdoses, only one ends in death. However, in the ten years between 2002 and 2011, the number of deaths from heroin has doubled. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-Hispanic whites had the highest reported rate of heroin poisoning-related deaths in 2011, including a jump in the age group between age 45 and 64. This trend is likely related to the growing recreational use of prescription painkillers. In 2010, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that one in every 20 people in the United States over the age of 12 had used painkillers for recreational purposes — to a total of 12 million people. Unfortunately, the combination of benzodiazepines and/or alcohol greatly increases the risk of overdose when heroin is added, as the substances all team up on the central nervous system.
The correct response to unconsciousness resulting from substance use is to put the person in what is called the recovery position, in order to to prevent suffocation. The recovery position has some variations but the key thing is to put the affected person on their side so fluid can drain out of the mouth easily, turning their head back so their airway stays open, and locking their arms and legs to give them stability — you can see a video example here. If breathing is labored, or the person is not breathing at all, 911 should be called and rescue breathing should be performed until help arrives. If there is no pulse, continuous chest compressions should be administered, again until help arrives. Neither rescue breathing nor chest compressions should be stopped until help arrives, as these don’t restart breathing or heartbeat, but artificially help a person’s body execute these tasks.
Many deaths related to overdose are the result of people on the scene who choose not to call 911 out of fear that they will be arrested for participating in an illegal activity. Because of this, a number of states have enacted medical amnesty laws that protect people who seek medical attention for themselves or others. These laws were popularized by college campuses that enacted similar policies to better provide assistance to students suffering of alcohol poisoning. A study of the impact of such a policy subsequently found that the number of alcohol-related 911 calls had increased by a little over 50 percent, with no reported increase in the level of underage drinking. As mentioned, a result of their effectiveness compelled a number of states to pass similar laws for other controlled substances. These states include New Mexico (2007), Washington (2010), Connecticut (2011), New York (2011), Colorado (2012), Illinois (2012), Florida (2012), Massachussets (2012), Rhode Island (2012), and Washington, D.C. (2012). California, where Hayes lived, signed assembly bill 472 into law just eleven months before the executive’s death, providing limited protection to people who call 911 from the scene of a drug-related overdose.
The law, now 11376.5 of the Health and Safety Code, states:
(a) Notwithstanding any other law, it shall not be a crime for a person to be under the influence of, or to possess for personal use, a controlled substance, controlled substance analog, or drug paraphernalia, if that person, in good faith, seeks medical assistance for another person experiencing a drug-related overdose that is related to the possession of a controlled substance, controlled substance analog, or drug paraphernalia of the person seeking medical assistance, and that person does not obstruct medical or law enforcement personnel. No other immunities or protections from arrest or prosecution for violations of the law are intended or may be inferred.
(b) Notwithstanding any other law, it shall not be a crime for a person who experiences a drug-related overdose and who is in need of medical assistance to be under the influence of, or to possess for personal use, a controlled substance, controlled substance analog, or drug paraphernalia, if the person or one or more other persons at the scene of the overdose, in good faith, seek medical assistance for the person experiencing the overdose. No other immunities or protections from arrest or prosecution for violations of the law are intended or may be inferred.
(c) This section shall not affect laws prohibiting the selling, providing, giving, or exchanging of drugs, or laws prohibiting the forcible administration of drugs against a personâ€™s will.
(d) Nothing in this section shall affect liability for any offense that involves activities made dangerous by the consumption of a controlled substance or controlled substance analog, including, but not limited to, violations of Section 23103 of the Vehicle Code as specified in Section 23103.5 of the Vehicle Code, or violations of Section 23152 or 23153 of the Vehicle Code.
(e) For the purposes of this section, “drug-related overdose” means an acute medical condition that is the result of the ingestion or use by an individual of one or more controlled substances or one or more controlled substances in combination with alcohol, in quantities that are excessive for that individual that may result in death, disability, or serious injury. An individualâ€™s condition shall be deemed to be a â€œdrug-related overdoseâ€ if a reasonable person of ordinary knowledge would believe the condition to be a drug-related overdose that may result in death, disability, or serious injury.
Georgia, where Tichelman lived before moving back to California, doesn’t provide amnesty to people who call to report an overdose. It is possible that Tichelman experienced the threat of arrest after calling to report the overdose that took her boyfriend’s life two months before Hayes’ death. Her boyfriend in Georgia, 53-year-old Dean Riopelle, overdosed from a combination of heroin, alcohol and the prescription opioid Oxycontin in September, 2013. And even if she didn’t herself experience that threat, she was well aware of what had happened to another prior boyfriend, who’d landed a sentence of 20 years after a woman overdosed on heroin in his apartment in 2008 and he attempted to revive her with two shots of cocaine, which resulted in him calling an ambulance far too late.
Police investigating Hayes’ death have seized on the overdose of Tichelman’s most recent ex as indication of a murderous streak, citing her other ex as her “inspiration.” The media has dubbed her Silicon Valley’s “Black Widow,” excitedly pointing out her love of the television show Dexter and interest in spree murders — evidence that would incriminate the record 3.3 million viewers who tuned in to the series finale, anyone who’s posted on any of the hundreds of serial killer and true crime forums on the internet, and the television talking head Nancy Grace.
But if you think about it, it is not that surprising that Tichelman didn’t call the police, choosing instead to chug her booze and try to erase herself from the scene before fleeing, as footage shows. Whether she knew about medical amnesty in California ultimately doesn’t matter as this protection is very limited and there is no amnesty for sex workers. A person with the glacial, calculating intent to kill, as police and media are trying to portray her, doesn’t leave behind fingerprints, including a perfect thumbprint on a wine glass. Neither does she leave behind a victim’s mobile device that has e-mails and text messages implicating her. This is clearly a person who committed criminal negligence out of a combination of ignorance and well-placed fear.
This tragedy is a reminder that we need to educate people about medical amnesty and fight to increase the number of protections that it provides to ensure that people in an emergency have no fear of acting ethically. This includes fighting for amnesty for sex workers so that neither they nor their clients find it difficult to step up when a medical emergency occurs.
Following her arrest on Independence Day, Alix Tichelman faces a number of charges, among them drugs and, naturally, prostitution. Prosecutors are hoping to bump up the manslaughter charge, pending the results of the newly reopened investigation into the death of her ex-boyfriend, Dean Riopelle in Georgia.
Header image by Owen Lin.