Franklin situation familiar to police

Wednesday, May 20, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

FRANKLIN -- Judging from police runs to the home, life at 233 Cedar St., where 17-year-old Joey Blair grew up, was anything but a scene out of Norman Rockwell.

From Dec. 19, 1996, until Jan. 25, 1998, Franklin police responded to seven disturbances there. Police calls to the home ended this spring, after Joey died of a lethal combination of alcohol and painkillers and the house was condemned and bulldozed.

"I've been there more times than I can count," said Franklin Cpt. Gerald Massey.

Joey's death underscores how limited police powers are when it comes to intervening in parent-child relationships. Franklin police were especially curbed in Joey's case because although the teen routinely drank alcohol at home, children can drink legally with their parents in Ohio.

On Feb. 14, Joey allegedly drank 16 beers in three hours, took two Darvocet prescription painkillers and never woke up.

An autopsy ruled the teen died of "acute propoxyphene and ethanol intoxication" or a combination of alcohol and the pills.

His mother, Kathy Jean Kirby Smith, 36, who now lives on Sixth Street in Franklin, was indicted Friday by a Warren County grand jury on a child endangering charge for providing her son with beer. Ms. Smith's former mother-in-law, Kathy Smith, 49, of 239 Cedar St., was indicted on one count each of involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and corrupting another with drugs. The elder Mrs. Smith was not a blood relative of Joey's.

Arraignment for both women is set for May 29. Neither has been arrested.

"Exactly where parents cross over the lines in drinking is a pretty gray area," Cpt. Massey said. "We thought, we hoped, he would get through this and reach a point where he'd make good choices for himself. There's dysfunctional families everywhere."

Joey was a junior at the Warren County Career Center studying plumbing, said Bill Shepherd, director of the school. The teen also worked part time at Frisch's Restaurant in Franklin. Last year, however, Joey was incarcerated at the Warren County Juvenile Detention Center and had been charged Dec. 29 with underage drinking, Cpt. Massey said.

"He was a good kid, a good boy," said Shelley Kirby, the wife of Gary Kirby, who was once married to Joey's mother.

"Kids these days are going to drink. If my kid was gonna drink, better he do it at home than out in a car driving," she said.

On the last day of his life, Joey allegedly drank two six-packs of beer at his house before walking next door to 239 Cedar St. to the elder Mrs. Smith's house. Prosecutors said the woman gave Joey two Darvocets and four more beers before he went to sleep.

The elder Mrs. Smith called 911 at 8:22 a.m. on Valentine's Day when she was unable to wake Joey. That police call was one of 11 made from the 239 Cedar St. address from Dec. 31, 1996, until April of this year. Most of those calls involved domestic disputes.

The combination of Darvocet and alcohol "slows down the central nervous system and intensifies the effects of alcohol," according to the Physicians Desk Reference Guide to Prescription Drugs. The manual also warns that heavy use of alcohol with Darvocet "may cause overdose symptoms."

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