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Editor’s note: June 29 will mark the first anniversary of 19-year-old Taylor Bowie’s death. The following is a tragic story of how a young woman, who
Bowie’s death prompts drug probe, 10 arrested
Prompted by the death of Taylor Bowie, the King George County Sheriff’s Dept. recently concluded an extensive investigation into a ring of prescription drug distribution. That investigation recently yielded the arrests of 10 people, <
was raised in a strong family and surrounded by supporting love, was torn apart by horrendous calamity and bad choices made with drugs and friends. Recently three of those friends — Derek Lee Brynteson, 19; Ashley Rae Morrissette, 19; and Kevin Christopher Hoover, 22 — were sentenced to six-month prison terms for possession of the controlled substance that has been implicated in her death. But while those three serve out their guilty verdicts in the case surrounding Taylor, there remains only one voice speaking out for the victim: Her mother’s.
There are no local memorials to Taylor Bowie, but perhaps there should be. A statuesque blonde with movie-star looks and a magnetic attraction, she could have been the real-life model for the Mattel toy doll “Barbie.” Popular and smart, most things would have come easy to her.
She was a King George High School cheerleader, a Fall Festival queen contestant, a leader in the school’s DECA program and an honor roll student when she wanted to be. Her extracurricular interests were devoted to children and animals of every kind, in equal order. But, to those who loved her, there was also “another side.”
According to her mother, Deborah Bowie, Taylor was extremely shy and introverted as a child. And, as she grew into womanhood, that dark side was manifested in a bipolar disorder which was to be amplified by personal trauma and resulting drug abuse.
“Our family moved the King George from Fredericksburg when Taylor was entering the seventh grade,” her mother said. “We were hoping to provide a small, caring community atmosphere to raise our children. Because of her shyness, the move was very hard on her. She was invited to join the National Honor Society at King George Middle School in the eighth grade but did not follow through due to her being terrified of having to appear on stage to be inducted.”
“We couldn’t even sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her in public as she would begin to cry and leave, not wanting any attention drawn to her,” her mom continued. “Later that school year she was diagnosed with a familial tremor which caused her hands, arms and sometimes her head to shake constantly. It was barely noticeable, except to her, but it could become worse if she was tired or upset.”
As Taylor matured, she began to shed her introverted timidity. Her shy shell was probably broken by her incredible beauty. But, while she probably knew how pretty she was, it became unimportant as she began to surround herself with interests in animals and dreams of one day joining the Peace Corps to help the children of impoverished nations.
“But Taylor never really seemed to find her niche,” Deborah said. “She tried many, many things, but never was drawn to one particular thing except music, animals and children. She loved animals and tried to rescue every single one of them she found injured, nursing them and taking them to the vet. She loved children and wanted to go to Africa in the Peace Corps to help them.”
In her sophomore year at King George High School Taylor was elected the Homecoming Princess and she was soon tracking along in school as a sure bet to become “the local girl makes good” promise that is destined to make her community shine. Then, a year later, her world was ripped asunder by family tragedy
It was 2008 and her only sibling, 14-year-old brother Chandler, was killed in a recreational motorcycle accident near his home.
“It was just a freakish thing,” Deborah said, blinking back tears. “He had done everything right. He had a helmet on and wasn’t doing anything really out of the ordinary. He was just riding in the woods and a tree fell on him.”
Taylor and Chandler, Deborah said, were remarkably different children. Chandler was outgoing with a winning smile and an easy way. He was well liked and made friends quickly while Taylor, though popular, was selective about who got close to her and who didn’t.
Yet, while they might have different, they were very much devoted to one another and any sibling rivalry was equally opposed by a fierce loyalty to each other and cemented in love. Her DECA teacher, Dee Strauss, recalled that she was “a focused and excellent student” who, when future careers were discussed in class once after the tragedy, said that she had wanted to excel in some profession that would have made her brother proud of her.
To friends of the family, Taylor was the epitome of a big sister who always stood up for her little brother and his death sent her into a tailspin of deep despair and a lingering depression from which she never recovered. And somewhere about this time she moved from mild flirtation with marijuana to a dependency on prescription medicine to cope with the pain.
Unfortunately, no amount of medication would help as there were more woes ahead. Her personal tragedy was exacerbated further by an incident in which she was sexually assaulted during a summer job stint in 2009.
She had been employed in an insurance firm after high school graduation and one of the agents she worked for attacked her while at work.
“Taylor pressed charges against him, but was mortified about having to testify against him in court,” Deborah said. “We were proud how she handled the situation and the agent was found guilty. She found a renewed sense of confidence after this … she had endured more in her short 18 years than any child should have had to endure.”
But it was short lived.
In the fall of 2009 she began college at Radford University, but she was only able to stay three weeks because of what she had suffered.
“She found that she couldn’t be away from us … gruesome nightmares, pieces of her brother began to haunt her,” Deborah said. “She came home and began weekly counseling. She was put on medication for severe depression and post traumatic stress syndrome from holding her brother while he was dying. She was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia (a muscle and connective tissue disease), which is very painful.” Accordingly, dependency on prescription pain medicine took hold. There was another hold on her life as well.
Perhaps it was her fascination with broken animals or children from broken homes, but Taylor seem to attract the wrong kind of friends in her tight circle. One was a “bad boy type” she was determined to change ever since she began dating him early in high school. He was a school dropout and his name was Derek Brynteson.
There have been countless self-help books addressing why good girls date bad boys. Most of them say it is the “you complete me” love cliché that transforms into “you excite me” when good girl meets bad boy. In a way, he is foreign to her — exciting, unpredictable. Typically, the psychological pros say, the good girl picks the bad boy because of how he makes her feel: Fascinating, needed, pursued and good. He is a rush and often a big charity case too for vulnerable girls. He’s always got a lot of issues and, if she tames him or helps him, it will be the ultimate good deed.
Of course it’s not that simple, say the experts. A good girl jumps in with no awareness of who she is dealing with while a bad boy has the art of manipulation down to perfection. Such combination, experts say, will always amount to a co-dependent, combustible couple with opposites being attracted to the other for all the wrong reasons.
And “combustible” was exactly what Brynteson and Taylor were. In May 2010, Taylor charged Brynteson with assault. It began, according to Deborah Bowie, when Taylor had asked Brynteson to go to an acquaintance’s home to watch a movie.
“He did not want to go and told her that if she left, she would not be welcomed back,” Deborah said.
The control he had tried to instill, her mother said, continued when Taylor called her friend to come pick her up. But before the friend could get there Brynteson had chased Taylor from the house and began the assault by yanking her sunglasses from her face and deliberately smashed them; then he allegedly thrust his hands around her neck and began choking her to the ground.
Because of the pending assault Brynteson was barred from seeing Taylor.
“After this incident, Taylor really began trying to get her life back in order,” Deborah said. “She began getting close to a different group of friends, ones that did not have to do drugs to have a good time. We let her go to Daytona Beach with one of these friends for three weeks just to show her there was a huge world out there just waiting to be discovered. She came home a completely different person. Taylor had been pain pill free for more than a month and she had begun to again blossom.”
What happened next is shrouded in a cloud of controversy, tears and unexplainable agony.
For some reason Taylor initiated contact back with Brynteson after receiving her subpoena to court on his assault charge.
“She hadn’t understood that she was going to have to testify against him in court and she was mortified,” Deborah said. “After the contact we never saw her alive again.”
Taylor died during the late hours of June 29 after suffering a stroke and heart failure following a drug overdose. She had been removed from life support after her brain had quit functioning. It had been a lingering death as, alone and abandoned by those she believed were friends, the end of her young life had begun earlier the previous week.
The eventual fatality began about 2 p.m. on June 23 as, according to testimony recorded in the case, Taylor went to see longtime friend, 19-year-old Ashley Rae Morrissette, to purchase Percocet. The drug is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen and used to treat moderate to severe pain. It is effective and thought to be generally safe unless it is abused by overdosing or used in combination with other medications. In such cases it can be extremely dangerous.
Sometime that same afternoon Brynteson found another narcotic — the pain drug Opana — in the sofa of another young woman he was also seeing. Kevin Christopher Hoover, 22, according to the testimony, had previously sold the woman the drug for about $40. Hoover is a multiple King George District Court offender with more than 25 charges involving a motor vehicle, ranging from minor charges with improper equipment to more serious violations of highway racing and driving with a suspended license.
The Opana pill he procured and sold is a powerful semi-synthetic opioid analgesic used to mimic heroin and morphine without the side effects. It should never be combined with alcohol or other medications as manufacturer alerts warn that such interactions are to be considered fatal. Opana interaction with other medication is characterized by respiratory depression, extreme somnolence progressing to stupor or coma, skeletal muscle flaccidity, cold and clammy skin, and severe apnea, circulatory collapse, cardiac arrest, and death.
Brynteson offered the drug to Taylor in exchange for a ride to Fredericksburg as his license was suspended. Bowie accepted it and some marijuana from him as well. What else may have been ingested in her system at the time isn’t known.
Not long afterward Taylor began displaying classic signs of an overdose. She was having trouble walking and became incoherent. Brynteson decided to take her to the home of a friend to sleep it off while he returned to have sex with the young woman who had originally lost the pill that Hoover supplied.
On June 24, almost 17 hours after being put to bed palpably suffering from a drug reaction, the owner of the home telephoned Taylor’s father, Darrell Bowie, to tell him his daughter was in dire distress and needed immediate help. Darrell Bowie asked him to call 911, but he did not. Darrell Bowie arrived to find his daughter apparently comatose and dialed the emergency number himself.
According to Deborah Bowie, Darrell also discovered what appeared to be a cigarette burn on Taylor’s ear and what resembled a curling iron burn on her ankle. Paramedics and emergency medical personnel have reported that among the drug culture victims they have seen, evident attempts to awaken overdosed persons have included burns from cigarettes. As an example, a New York City study on overdose victims recorded that, “attempts to revive the overdose victim through physical stimulation (e.g., applying ice, causing pain) were reported by 59.7 percent of respondents, while more effective first aid measures were attempted in only 11.9 percent of events.”
Deborah Bowie said Taylor first died in the ambulance by the time it reached Fas Mart, but that the King George paramedics revived her to get to Mary Washington Hospital where she later was to suffer a heart attack and stroke.
“She lay in the hospital for six days before they ruled her brain-dead and we had to make the decision to remove our child from life support to hold her while she died,” Deborah said, weeping. “And she did not go quickly. Taylor kept gasping for air, making horrible garbled sounds until I had to leave the room. I wasn’t even there when she opened her eyes one last time and took her last breath. I will never forgive myself for leaving!”
Deborah Bowie said she doesn’t blame anyone for Taylor’s drug addiction. Her daughter had informed her back in January that she had a dependency with pain pills.
“I begged her, prodded her, I threatened her and took things away from her. I did everything I could to get her to treatment, but she said she could kick it on her own. I said ‘No, Taylor, you can’t’ and now I realize how true that statement is. But she was 18, so what could I do?” she asked rhetorically.
“I just wish that there was still a law where kids don’t legally become adults until they’re 21. They are still such babies at 18, but they are adults and there’s nothing you can do. I just couldn’t get her help,” she lamented.
“The last year of her life she was so changed,” Deborah said. “She was depressed and stayed mostly in her room where it was kept dark; she wouldn’t eat and she only got up to go out to see her friends. She said ‘my friends are my family, and I love them!’ That’s how Taylor told us she felt and then I knew that we were losing her.”
But any family, even a new family of friends bonded by common drug interests and wild parties, would not have been expected to treat a loved one so capriciously or so callously as unconscious Taylor was; especially when her unresponsive bodily pleas for help should have been recognized but instead were blatantly ignored, believes Taylor’s mother. In court she said that “even an injured dog on the side of the road would have gotten more attention.” Additionally, she cannot understand why Taylor was at the home of a man whom she was believed to have despised or also why she was neglected by someone there who was reported to have had medical training.
At the sentencing, Judge Joseph E. Spruill dealt the trio three years in prison with all but six months suspended. Additionally they all must complete 300 hours of community service. Brynteson also drew a 10-day jail term for the assault against Taylor.
All of the three defendants expressed deep remorse at their sentencing. Brynteson’s mother, Teresa Brynteson, remarked that what had happened to Taylor could have happened to any one of the other three.
“All of these kids were playing Russian Roulette with their lives,” she said in court.
Currently, with the exception of Ashley Morrissette, who is being allowed to graduate from school on an inmate out program, the trio is at the Rappahannock Regional Jail to either finish their term there or wait to be transferred to another Virginia correctional facility.
Closure, though, has not come with their sentences. Deborah and her husband, Darrell, still have a lot of unanswered questions concerning their personal tragedy.
“We have now lost two children in the span of three years,” Deborah said. “As we have discovered, losing a child is a different kind of loss. The death of a child is a catastrophic stressor, to say the least. Death’s dimensions are more profound and the path that it has cut through our lives is much broader than any other loss imaginable. Our children’s deaths have robbed us of what we love most.”
The mother is trying to move on by gaining some impetus from the catastrophic event and applying it to help other drug victims, including the three friends implicated in her death.
Before the sentencing of Brynteson, Morrissette and Hoover, she wrote to the court:
“We have had many months to sort through our feelings in our hearts and our minds and the conclusion we have come to is that Taylor’s death must count for something positive,” she wrote. “These three young adults have a very long history of drug dealing and drug abuse and are a danger to themselves and to our community. Nothing good can come out of the situation unless they are held accountable by serving jail time but,” she emphasized, “that alone is useless. They must be given help for their extensive drug addiction problems which they have admitted … Taylor’s life will not have been in vain if (her convicted friends) can live a life free of drugs.”
Still, there may never be complete closure in Taylor’s death.
“After six months they (Bryneston, Morrissette and Hoover) all come home,” Deborah said. “Taylor never will.”