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A troubled soul, another tragic ending in the 'other Baltimore'

RALPH E. "Casey" Kloetzli died in an alley behind an abandoned house on ashort side street I had neither heard of nor visited in my 27 years inBaltimore. Until two weeks ago, he had lived a tormented life in the "otherBaltimore," the subculture of addiction and distress that so many of us knowonly from a distance.

Members of Kloetzli's family ran Werner's, the landmark downtownrestaurant. A few years ago, in an effort to make households of Carroll Countysafer, Kloetzli's mother staged a successful Beanie Baby-for-guns swap at herRoute 140 toy store, and received quite a bit of attention for it.

But I knew none of this until the other day.

Casey Kloetzli's life -- 41 years, at least half of them scarred by mentalillness and drug addiction -- transpired in the "other Baltimore," withoutpublic exposure but with a ton of private pain. Such is the story of thousandsof families in our city and its suburbs. So I come into this story too late.

"You've got to do a story," his mother said Aug. 12, her voice melting intosobs on the telephone. "The state trooper showed up at my door this morning.My son OD'd downtown; I'm out in Westminster. I begged the hospital to put himin [residential treatment]. ... I need to change the system. It's broken."

Long story, condensed for the purposes of a newspaper column: A boy growsup in a suburb of Baltimore, attends the public schools. The rabbi at his barmitzvah remembers him as a "cute, spunky, spirited" boy. His parents divorcewhen he's 14. As a teenager, he experiments with drugs, and by the time he'sin his 20s, it's clear that he suffers from depression. To relieve his pain,he experiments with heroin and becomes addicted; he starts living on thefringes, selling dope, abusing painkilling medication. He goes into theBaltimore County Detention Center on a drug charge. At another point, he'semployed stringing tennis rackets, engaged in bodybuilding and living withroommates in a townhouse. Then he slides deeper into addiction and moves intoa house in Hampden. Then he manages to purge the heroin from his body. But hecontinues to abuse painkillers.

His mother, Sydney Shure, is the source of most of this information, buteven she has a hard time filling in all the gaps and providing an exactchronology. There were long periods when Kloetzli was fully out of hisfamily's loop.

The rabbi who eulogized him last week, Mark Loeb of Beth El Congregation,recalled meeting Kloetzli several years ago outside a downtown cafe. "He toldme quite honestly of some of the problems that he had been dealing with, and Ifelt a sinking feeling in my heart," Loeb said. "I asked him to call me if Icould be of help. We said goodbye. Not to my surprise, he did not call,probably due to embarrassment."

Embarrassment was a huge issue with Kloetzli, says his mother, who believesone of the prescribed medications he took contributed to her son's strikingweight gains.

Shure has been a businesswoman for a long time, and these days you can findher behind the counter of a bright, fun store called Toys Etc. Ideas Etc. Ltd.in Westminster.

It was in this store that her son overdosed from painkillers in July. Hewas admitted to Carroll Hospital Center. That, says Shure, was CaseyKloetzli's fourth hospitalization this year -- three of them related in someway to his addictions, one after an attempted suicide.

For a time this year, he had moved into his mother's unit in an apartmentcomplex for senior citizens in Westminster, and he seemed to be doing well.But they both knew Kloetzli could not stay there for long.

What this man really needed was something still not readily attainable forthe uninsured or underinsured -- intensive treatment in a residential drugrehabilitation center. Kloetzli was ready for it, his mother says, but hedidn't get it. As her son's last hospital stay was coming to an end, Shuresays, "I begged [doctors and hospital officials] to send him to Shoemaker[rehabilitation center in Sykesville]. I told them if they let him out of thehospital, he was going downtown."

He did exactly that. His mother picked Kloetzli up from the hospital at 2p.m. Aug. 8. By 5 p.m. that day he was in a cab and headed for a house near25th Street in Baltimore. He paid $65 for the cab ride. Somehow, he ended upin the alley behind the 600 block of Gutman Ave., a side street lined withabandoned rowhouses. By 11:25 a.m. the next day, he was dead. Police found hisbody in the alley. They suspect a drug overdose, but the cause of death isstill listed as pending.

Shure insists that her son was at risk when he left the hospital and shouldnot have been released without an arrangement for residential treatment.

The hospital, pointing to patient confidentiality laws, would not commenton the Kloetzli case but said this in a prepared statement: "At CarrollHospital Center's Behavioral Health Unit, treatment is always individualizedto meet the unique healthcare needs of the patient. After comprehensiveinpatient evaluation and therapeutic treatment, every patient is dischargedwith a detailed after-care plan that is developed with the patient and his orher family, as appropriate. ... We extend our sincere sympathy to the Kloetzlifamily."

Should Casey Kloetzli have been ordered to residential treatment? Given thetrack record of the last six months of his life, it seems clear that that'swhat he needed. Would he have gone there willingly? His mother says he wouldhave. The $65 he paid to a cabdriver indicates otherwise.

I'm not a board-certified psychiatrist, but I know this much: Whentreatment is not available on demand, some addicts quickly lose their desireto get well. And they relapse. And they go out looking for something to takeaway the pain.

Casey Kloetzli was looking for something in the alley behind Gutman Avenue.

"We all know that life is often anything but fair," Rabbi Loeb said at thegraveside last Sunday. "For Casey, it was not fair at all. He deserved betterfrom life, and we all grieve that he only knew its cruelty. The tragedy of hisdeath is an inexplicable reality, and there is no comfort to wipe away ourtears. A young man and a good but troubled soul deserved so much more. May Godnow take him under his wing."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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