Mother disputes suicide verdict
Nick Garber’s death accidental, she contends
For Sue Slocum, her son’s graduation day was a bittersweet affair. Looking out into a sea of seniors last week, she listened for her son’s name to be called, and what should have been a moment of triumph was just another sting in six months of heartache.
A picture filled the seat in which Nick Garber would have sat. When his name was called, no one appeared on stage. Every face in the crowd fell a little at the empty, quiet space he had left.
“I just broke,” Slocum said, when approaching the spot where her son’s picture sat by itself, before the ceremony had started and the kids had filed into the stadium.
While she didn’t know what to expect, the ceremony gave her something she hadn’t felt in a while: a sense of peace.
“They honored him so much,” she said of Chico High School and his friends. Each graduate wore a purple ribbon, marking her son’s favorite color, and when his name was called there was a moment of silence and a space of time during which he would have crossed the stage. She was bombarded with hugs after the ceremony.
For Slocum, peace has been hard to come by since two friends of Nick’s burst through her bedroom door at 3:30 in the morning New Year’s Day to tell her that her son was having convulsions.
That night, Nick had attended a New Year’s Eve party, come home around 1:30 a.m. and gone to sleep, only to wake up two hours later vomiting and convulsing. The autopsy determined that Nick had ingested a lethal combination of antihistamines, ibuprofen and rubbing alcohol. His blood alcohol level was .05.
As if the death of a child isn’t hard enough, Slocum is faced with ceaseless questions regarding the nature of Nick’s death, which was ruled a suicide.
Family and friends emphatically disagree with the police ruling. There are serious holes in the case, Slocum said.
“There were a lot of questions that were never answered,” she said.
For instance, there were contradictory reports from Nick’s friends and the missing source of the drugs Nick ingested. The police investigation was hasty and not thorough, Slocum argued.
The police did not close off Nick’s room as a crime scene, and hundreds of people walked through it in the first days after his death. Police also did not thoroughly investigate the scene of the party, said Slocum, which was attended by minors, many of whom were still there and still intoxicated when the police arrived at 5:30 that morning. No arrests were made.
“It’s like they don’t follow anything,” Slocum said. “Why are you not at that party investigating? Why aren’t you taking pictures?”
And then there was the apparent suicide note, scribbled hurriedly, that the police found underneath a stack of album covers several feet from Nick’s bed. A note that Slocum never saw until more than a month after his death.
“I had no idea they were considering it a suicide,” Slocum said. What she considers an “accidental overdose” the police have ruled a suicide, forever tainting his memory, she said.
According to Slocum, the police never questioned her about her son’s mental history. They never asked if he had been depressed, if he had sought treatment, if he was on medication, if he had ever attempted suicide before. All of the answers would have been “No,” she noted.
“I’ve just been so disappointed by the way we’ve been treated,” she said.
All in all, she just can’t imagine her son would commit suicide. The signs just weren’t there, Slocum said.
“Unfortunately, suicide is sometimes an impulsive act,” said Sgt. Rob Merrifield of the Chico Police Department. He was part of the investigation into Nick’s death and corroborated Slocum’s account of what the police did during the investigation.
A popular senior and football player, Nick wasn’t your average middle linebacker, his mother joked. He would often show up at school wearing a pink and purple shirt and checkered Vans, a guitar slung over his back. He loved The Beatles and Jethro Tull, and was a real “goofball.”
The day before his death, Nick wrote a list of New Year’s resolutions that he carried with him in his wallet. Among them: “Sell Clifford” (Clifford was the name he gave his big, red car), “kiss a college girl” and “speak with a stranger once a day.”