Investigators doubtful that mysterious Texas truck stop deaths are linked

| 1/5/2007

Seven truck drivers were found dead in and around San Antonio truck stops in recent months, but so far investigators do not believe those deaths were linked.?

Some mainstream media had reported that "bad" drugs were to blame for the rash of deaths. And although drugs were found to be the cause of death for a couple found dead in their truck, no link has been found in the other five truckers' deaths.

An official with the medical examiner's office told Land Line Magazine that toxicology reports indicate that four of the truckers died from heart problems. These may just be a coincidence, said Bexar County Chief Toxicologist Rod McCutcheon.

In fact, the case has been closed in the suspicious deaths of two truckers found at a Petro Stopping Center on Ackerman Road on Nov. 1, 2006, after toxicology reports confirmed that Harry Ackroyd, 35, and his common-law wife, Michelle (McLean) Ackroyd, 32, died "accidentally of methamphetamine intoxication," according to Wanda Austin of the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office.

No further investigation into the Ackroyds' deaths is planned, Bexar County Public Information Officer Joe Rios said.

"As the autopsies come back - they close out each case," he said. "In the Ackroyds' case, it was 'cleared by exception,' meaning these people died after ingesting these drugs purposefully."

Rios said unfortunately, he sees this happen in a profession where drivers try to push themselves too far in order to meet their deadlines.

"Instead of driving eight hours and sleeping for eight hours, some will try to drive 24 hours straight to make their runs," he said. "It's sad."

Rios said that although a man was questioned in connection with the possibility of laced drugs being sold in and around San Antonio truck stops, he said the man was found not to have any knowledge of the case and was later released. No one else has been taken in for questioning in the case and Rios said no plans currently exist to further investigate who may have sold methamphetamine to the Ackroyds.

Austin said it may be a few more weeks before the toxicology report is available in the case of the most recent trucker found dead at a San Antonio truck stop, which could possibly link three of the deaths. Byron Gonzalez, 42, was found dead in his truck on Nov. 23, 2006, at the same Petro where the Ackroyds' bodies were discovered earlier in the month.

In recent months, the bodies of four other truckers were found in and around San Antonio truck stops. Autopsy reports in all four of these cases attributed their deaths to heart-related conditions and toxicology reports showed no traces of drugs, including methamphetamine, according to Austin. In most of the cases, tests were done to see if carbon monoxide was present in the blood. In those tested, all came back negative for carbon monoxide poisoning, she said.

Chief Toxicologist McCutcheon said he couldn't talk about the specifics involved in the recent cases, but he said comprehensive toxicology reports are conducted every time a body is brought in because of an "unexpected death" or when there is no apparent or "official" cause of death.

"Routinely, we do a comprehensive evaluation in these cases to see if any drugs are present," McCutcheon said. "Methamphetamine is one of the drugs we would be able to detect through this process if the drug is present in significant concentrations. Routine blood analysis is done on all bodies that have no known initial cause of death."

When questioned as to whether there has been a noticeable increase in accidental deaths because of methamphetamine intoxication in the San Antonio area in recent months, Rios said he didn't know, because accidental deaths aren't something his department is required by the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program to track.

McCutcheon said he couldn't provide statistics on the number of accidental deaths caused by methamphetamine intoxication in Bexar County in recent months, but said he has seen more accidental deaths attributed to overdoses of cocaine and heroin, rather than methamphetamine overdoses.

 - By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer