RALPH E. "Casey" Kloetzli died in an alley behind an abandoned house on a short side street I had neither heard of nor visited in my 27 years in Baltimore. Until two weeks ago, he had lived a tormented life in the "other Baltimore," the subculture of addiction and distress that so many of us know only from a distance.
Members of Kloetzli's family ran Werner's, the landmark downtown
restaurant. A few years ago, in an effort to make households of Carroll County
safer, Kloetzli's mother staged a successful Beanie Baby-for-guns swap at her
Route 140 toy store, and received quite a bit of attention for it.
Casey Kloetzli's life -- 41 years, at least half of them scarred by mental
illness and drug addiction -- transpired in the "other Baltimore," without
public exposure but with a ton of private pain. Such is the story of thousands
of 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 into
sobs 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 him
in [residential treatment]. ... I need to change the system. It's broken."
Long story, condensed for the purposes of a newspaper column: A boy grows
up in a suburb of Baltimore, attends the public schools. The rabbi at his bar
mitzvah remembers him as a "cute, spunky, spirited" boy. His parents divorce
when he's 14. As a teenager, he experiments with drugs, and by the time he's
in 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 the
fringes, selling dope, abusing painkilling medication. He goes into the
Baltimore County Detention Center on a drug charge. At another point, he's
employed stringing tennis rackets, engaged in bodybuilding and living with
roommates in a townhouse. Then he slides deeper into addiction and moves into
a house in Hampden. Then he manages to purge the heroin from his body. But he
continues to abuse painkillers.
His mother, Sydney Shure, is the source of most of this information, but
even she has a hard time filling in all the gaps and providing an exact
chronology. There were long periods when Kloetzli was fully out of his
The rabbi who eulogized him last week, Mark Loeb of Beth El Congregation,
recalled meeting Kloetzli several years ago outside a downtown cafe. "He told
me quite honestly of some of the problems that he had been dealing with, and I
felt a sinking feeling in my heart," Loeb said. "I asked him to call me if I
could 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 believes
one of the prescribed medications he took contributed to her son's striking
Shure has been a businesswoman for a long time, and these days you can find
her behind the counter of a bright, fun store called Toys Etc. Ideas Etc. Ltd.
It was in this store that her son overdosed from painkillers in July. He
was admitted to Carroll Hospital Center. That, says Shure, was Casey
Kloetzli's fourth hospitalization this year -- three of them related in some
way to his addictions, one after an attempted suicide.
For a time this year, he had moved into his mother's unit in an apartment
complex 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 for
the uninsured or underinsured -- intensive treatment in a residential drug
rehabilitation center. Kloetzli was ready for it, his mother says, but he
didn't get it. As her son's last hospital stay was coming to an end, Shure
says, "I begged [doctors and hospital officials] to send him to Shoemaker
[rehabilitation center in Sykesville]. I told them if they let him out of the
hospital, he was going downtown."
He did exactly that. His mother picked Kloetzli up from the hospital at 2
p.m. Aug. 8. By 5 p.m. that day he was in a cab and headed for a house near
25th Street in Baltimore. He paid $65 for the cab ride. Somehow, he ended up
in the alley behind the 600 block of Gutman Ave., a side street lined with
abandoned rowhouses. By 11:25 a.m. the next day, he was dead. Police found his
body in the alley. They suspect a drug overdose, but the cause of death is
still listed as pending.
Shure insists that her son was at risk when he left the hospital and should
not have been released without an arrangement for residential treatment.
The hospital, pointing to patient confidentiality laws, would not comment
on the Kloetzli case but said this in a prepared statement: "At Carroll
Hospital Center's Behavioral Health Unit, treatment is always individualized
to meet the unique healthcare needs of the patient. After comprehensive
inpatient evaluation and therapeutic treatment, every patient is discharged
with a detailed after-care plan that is developed with the patient and his or
her family, as appropriate. ... We extend our sincere sympathy to the Kloetzli
Should Casey Kloetzli have been ordered to residential treatment? Given the
track record of the last six months of his life, it seems clear that that's
what he needed. Would he have gone there willingly? His mother says he would
have. The $65 he paid to a cabdriver indicates otherwise.
I'm not a board-certified psychiatrist, but I know this much: When
treatment is not available on demand, some addicts quickly lose their desire
to get well. And they relapse. And they go out looking for something to take
away 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 the
graveside last Sunday. "For Casey, it was not fair at all. He deserved better
from life, and we all grieve that he only knew its cruelty. The tragedy of his
death is an inexplicable reality, and there is no comfort to wipe away our
tears. A young man and a good but troubled soul deserved so much more. May God
now take him under his wing."