On the afternoon of April 22, Army medic and two-tour Iraq veteran David "Doc" Stewart gunned down his girlfriend Kristy Sampels and fatally shot himself on I-5 just south of Tumwater after a state trooper pulled him over for speeding after a lengthy chase. Hours earlier, Stewart's 5-year-old son Jordan was asphyxiated with a plastic bag over his head at the family's home in Spanaway. Investigators discovered a jar of Lady Bubbles "bath salts," a powerful stimulant chemically similar to methamphetamine and snorted like cocaine, in Stewart's pocket. Yesterday, toxicology results from the Thurston County Coroner confirmed that both Stewart and Sampels were high on the drug at the time of their deaths.
Before the ban, numerous brands of bath salts were sold over-the-counter at local smoke shops, under brand names like Ivory Wave, Pure X, and Bolivian Bath. They were a popular stand-in for cocaine and other illegal stimulants. "It's not much different than any other upper," a 26-year-old Belltown bartender told Seattle Weekly in January. "You get that high you get from coke for about 20 minutes, then afterward you're just more alert. It's got a very distinct, sort of sweet taste, and it definitely burns the nose. We were out at the bars and it gave us an insatiable craving for alcohol."
But after a series of horrifically bizarre incidents involving people high on bath salts, government officials cracked down on the drug. In West Virginia, a man wearing lingerie stabbed his neighbors' pygmy goat to death while in the throes of a bath-salts bender. In Mississippi, a bath-salts user carved up his own face with a skinning knife.
But Stewart's case is perhaps the most heinous of all. His toddler son was found beaten and with a plastic bag taped over his head. Police haven't been able to prove that Stewart or Sampels were the killers, but circumstantial evidence suggests that the couple may have committed the crime. Stewart's mother told reporters that he and Sampels were fighting the night before the murder/suicide. Stewart, who served in the 82nd Airborne Unit and was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, also reportedly suffered from PTSD.
The Stewart-Sampels family in better times.
After the deadly encounter on I-5, however, bath salts--which were also found in the couple's home and scattered around their car--quickly became the scapegoat. Yesterday, Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock removed all doubts that Stewart and Sampels had been using the drug. He announced that toxicology results indicate MDPV was present in their systems.
The Lady Bubbles brand of bath salts favored by Stewart seem to be a particularly nasty variety. One online retailer sells 500-milligram jars of the stuff for $34.99, boasting that it is "a powerful meditative bath salt" that will "leave you feeling energized and euphoric." The same vendor also warns that buyers should "use sparingly at first, as too much will muddy up your bath water and leave you unhappy." In the "Legal Highs" online forum, several users noted that Lady Bubbles is almost pure MDPV, which causes intense, uncomfortable highs even in small doses. That jibes with the account of the bath-salts user interviewed by SW in January, who said concentrated versions of the drug are like "rocket fuel" and cause a come-down that is "pretty intense--really terrible."
So while it may be impossible to say that bath salts are the sole reason Stewart went berserk, the evidence clearly indicates the drugs played a significant part in the tragedy.