By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
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Andres, a nine-year veteran of the Metro-Dade force, answers questions tersely. "That's evidence," he says without elaboration, explaining why the family was not permitted to see the notes until two days after Carpenter's death. He says he didn't call the family sooner because of other work he had to attend to. "There's more than one death in Miami in one night," he says with no trace of humor. "We could have waited until the next working day but we tried not to do that. I didn't get back until four o'clock in the morning. That's when I called." Although Carpenter's death has been ruled a suicide, Andres says the police report is en route to the file room at Metro-Dade Police headquarters, and he declines to answer any specific questions about the case.
It was not until Tuesday, after Carpenter's body was transported to Ahern Plummer Funeral Home on Bird Road, that Roenfeldt found out Carpenter's organs had not been removed. "When the funeral home got him, they said they didn't feel that had been done," she says. "When I called Jackson, they didn't have records of him ever being there. By that time, it was too late." The next day, Berry and Roenfeldt say they asked Andres about the organ donation. "He told us none of the organs had been donated," Berry says. "We asked him why. He said he didn't know. He said nothing. The way that they handled us was totally incompetent and insensitive. And not honoring his wishes is unforgivable. Everything they could've done wrong, they did wrong. It's a total puzzlement."
Juanita Spires, transplant coordinator for the University of Miami Organ Procurement Program, the agency that screens and harvests organs from Jackson patients, says her records show she was not contacted. Spires, who estimates that 25 percent of organ donors have suffered gunshot wounds to the head, says Carpenter's case may not have been referred because of several medical conditions that might possibly have rendered him ineligible for donation, including cardiac death. A patient must be pronounced brain dead, Spires explains, but must have his heart and other organs kept functioning on life-support equipment, in order for the organs to be considered for donation. "If he were alive when he came in or suffered brain death and was on a respirator, we should have been called," Spires says. "Nobody called us. We have no way of knowing who comes into the emergency room unless the hospital notifies us."
According to Spires, her agency receives 250 referrals each year from Jackson. Of that number, organs from only 100 are suitable for donation. And the price of extracting organs for research purposes, which entails the same medical procedures and costs as those used for transplant, are prohibitive. Procuring one kidney, for example, costs between $10,000 and $12,000. "It's just too expensive," Spires says. (Dr. Greg Gelman, whose name is listed in the Dade medical examiner's files as the physician present when Carpenter was pronounced dead, did not return telephone calls from New Times.)
Dr. B.E. Buck, associate director of the UM Tissue Bank, says his office examined Carpenter as a possible donor the morning after Carpenter died. While the Organ Procurement Program must be notified before a patient's heart stops beating, the tissue bank, which harvests corneas, bone, and skin, can wait up to 24 hours after death, and evaluates donors twice per day at the medical examiner's office. "We realized he wasn't a good candidate for either vital organs or tissue," Buck says. "We turn down two to three cases every day. He was not a candidate for us." The spread of bacteria, which enter through wounds, disqualified Carpenter for organ donation, Buck concluded. "Large gunshot wounds generally exclude the donor because they will contaminate the body," says Buck. "If we believe it was too bad an injury, we won't take the case."
The method one chooses in committing suicide often determines whether a victim's organs can be used, adds John McCleland, manager of the Regional Organ Procurement Agency at the UCLA medical campus in Los Angeles. "Using a smaller-caliber pistol would help, because there'd be more of a chance of stabilizing the patient for a longer time," McCleland explains. "With a larger-caliber weapon, you die too quickly to mobilize a team to take advantage of a donation." A large-caliber weapon also results in an exit wound, which multiplies the chances of infection, as well as the loss of blood. But according to McCleland, virtually every method of suicide presents problems for organ donation: drug overdoses tend to damage the organs; hanging takes too long, which means that cardiac arrest usually precedes brain death and the oxygen supply to the organs is cut off; slitting the wrists results in too great a loss of blood, causing the organs to stop functioning.
Bill Carpenter's ashes were scattered off Elliot Key in Biscayne Bay on the blustery Saturday afternoon after he died, in a small ceremony attended by members of his family and a few friends. The man who had so meticulously planned his death, whose last attempts to control his life entailed choreographing his death, had unwittingly sabotaged his own chances for organ donation. "His first objective was to kill himself," says Carpenter's friend Guy Gooch. "And he did a good job at that. In terms of donating his organs, that was a total screw-up on his part. He didn't know."
"Poor Bill," adds Pam Roenfeldt. "With everything he knew, he didn't know that one little thing. He wanted everything to be so neat and clean, and it was not that. It was not that at all.