Choking cause of teen's death

Youth chased by police, swallowed seven packets escaping into pharmacy

May 03, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Medical examiners found seven plastic bags of suspected cocaine in the throat of a 16-year-old boy who died Wednesday night after being chased into a Northwest Baltimore Rite-Aid store by city police, authorities said yesterday.

The cause of death was asphyxia due to zipper-sealed bags that lodged in the trachea of the youth, Tavon Thomas Wallace, according to a preliminary autopsy report.

Police said Tavon, of the 4500 block of The Strand, tried to swallow bags containing a rocklike substance after running into the store a few blocks away at the corner of Park Heights Avenue and Cold Spring Lane.

The bags were enclosed in plastic wrap, the autopsy report said.

Shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday, Tavon had been observed in a drug transaction by undercover officers near the corner, police said.

When a second team of undercover drug officers approached him on foot, police said, the youth ran into the store.

The plainclothes officers followed him inside and saw Tavon putting the plastic bags in his mouth as he ran down an aisle, then falling to the floor.

Officers propped him up and attempted the Heimlich maneuver and cardiopulmonary resuscitation before paramedics arrived and rushed the youth to Sinai Hospital. He was pronounced dead there shortly before 8 p.m.

Sgt. Troy Cooper, of the Northern District's Drug Enforcement Unit, said police had known about Tavon's drug dealing for about a month and he had been targeted by narcotics officers.

Yesterday, family members expressed shock and disbelief at the autopsy findings and said they want to see images recorded by a store surveillance camera.

They said they hoped it will show that officers attempted to save Tavon's life and did not contribute to his death, as relatives heard from bystander accounts.

"I'm disgusted. I was accepting everything they said, but now I'm not believing it," grandmother Louise Wallace said of the autopsy report, incredulous at the number of bags it said was found in his throat.

However, the store camera was not pointed in the direction of the aisles, but toward the doors, police spokeswoman Sheri Albrecht said.

The autopsy also found "no indication of police brutality," Albrecht said, adding that the death remained under investigation.

Wallace said she had been raising Tavon since he was 5, and that his parents were substance abusers.

She said he was a mild-mannered, churchgoing teen, and so shy at times at speaking up that she often had to order food for him at restaurants.

The ninth-grader was under juvenile probation for a 1999 shoplifting incident, but not frequently in trouble, Wallace said.

She added that he had been diagnosed as having depression, and recently began wearing baggy "thug" clothes, selling drugs on the corner, and failing to attend classes at Harbor City High, a school for troubled youth.

Wallace "just got caught up with the wrong crowd," said his cousin Sharan Taylor.

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