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No reason to believe Prince's death was a suicide, sheriff says after autopsy

April 22, 2016 5:41 PM
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The radio call came in just after 1 a.m. to the air traffic control tower at the Quad City International Airport in eastern Illinois.

A private jet needed to land, and quickly. A man onboard was unresponsive.

Firefighters and paramedics responded and met the Dassault Falcon 990. They spent 18 minutes attending to the man on the tarmac, before whisking him to a local hospital.

The man was Prince, flying home to Minnesota after back-to-back concerts in Atlanta — which were to be his final moments on stage.

His brief hospitalization in Moline, Ill., on April 15 took place just six days before he was found dead Thursday at his Paisley Park estate in a suburb of Minneapolis.

The cause of death may not be determined for weeks, authorities said Friday. There were no immediate signs of trauma or indications of suicide, and one of the key aspects of the investigation will be his medical history, including previous hospitalizations and any drugs found in his body at the time of his death.

The initial autopsy was completed Friday, but results from tissue sample tests and toxicology screens could take “days... and most likely weeks,” said Martha Weaver, a spokeswoman for the Midwest Medical Examiners, during a news conference.

On Friday, new details emerged about the final hours of a star — notoriously private, and devoted to a vegan lifestyle — at his sprawling residential complex and recording studio in Chanhassen, about 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

But many questions remain. An unconfirmed report from the news site TMZ said the singer was treated for an overdose of Percocet, a painkiller, when his jet diverted to the Quad City airport a week earlier.

Prince, 57, was last seen alive at 8 p.m. Wednesday, when someone dropped him off at Paisley Park, authorities said during the news conference. Prince was apparently left alone that night, without staff members or security.

Prince was “a very private person,” said Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson. “I don’t think it would be unusual, for him to be there by himself.”

When members of his staff couldn’t reach him Thursday morning, they went to Paisley Park.

An employee found the singer unresponsive in an elevator on the first floor of the building. A transcript of a 911 call released by the sheriff’s department provides a hint of the frantic scramble that followed.

“Yeah, we need an ambulance right now,” a man told a 911 dispatcher. “Um, we’re at Prince’s house. ... The person is dead here.”

The caller said he didn’t know the address of Paisley Park and apologizes for the delay, saying everyone with him was “just distraught.”

Sheriff’s deputies arrived at Paisley Park at 9:43 a.m. Olson said he did not recall seeing a phone in the elevator or a cellphone near the body.

Prince was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m., but the time of death is still under investigation. He did not appear to have died in the minutes before officials arrived, Olson said.

“We have no reason to believe at this point that this was a suicide,” he said. “But again, this is early on in this investigation.”

Earlier this month, Prince postponed several shows, and his spokeswoman told reporters that he had the flu. But he returned to the stage, performing in Atlanta twice in one night on April 14, the night before his flight back to Minneapolis.

Unconfirmed reports from the news site TMZ indicated that Prince was treated for an overdose of the painkiller Percocet after the emergency landing. His jet took off again just a few hours later.

Doctors typically prescribe Percocet for severe pain, said Dr. Damon Raskin, the chief medical advisor at the drug rehabilitation center Cliffside Malibu. It’s considered a high-risk drug, and doctors cannot call a prescription into a pharmacy, but rather must write a prescription on paper or electronically transmit it using a secure system.

“Percocet is in the same family as heroine and codeine,” Raskin said. “It’s as dangerous as any opiate if someone is not used to it or if they take too much.”

The most common cause of death in an opiate overdose is that the user stops breathing, Raskin said, at which point doctors would administer a reversal agent called Narcan.

During the news conference, Olson said officials used CPR, but not Narcan, in an attempt to revive Prince.

In addition to examining medical records and interviewing the singer’s inner circle, Olson said, it would be “normal protocol” to review video footage from a drugstore that Prince had reportedly visited in his final days. Olson said the sheriff’s department will also file a search warrant for the Paisley Park property within the next 10 days.

Deputies had responded to Paisley Park before, Olson said, but not for Prince. The singer was well-known for hosting concerts and gatherings at the low-slung complex, surrounded by black gates and lit in purple.

Hundreds of mourners, many of them wearing purple, gathered there Friday afternoon. The black chain-link fence that surrounds Paisley Park had been festooned with dozens of purple balloons and bouquets of flowers — and even a purple map of Minnesota.

Darcy Peterson, 47, wore a purple argyle cardigan to pay her respects, and brought her daughter Madison, 19, whom she’d introduced to Prince’s music. When asked why she came, Darcy began to cry. Prince was part of her youth, she said, and a part of Minneapolis itself.

Like Prince, “I went to Minneapolis public schools,” she said. Both her prom and her homecoming had “Purple Rain” themes. And she still remembers the time when she turned 21, and saw Prince at the Pacific Club, not performing but sitting quietly by himself at a table in the corner, surrounded by bodyguards.

As Darcy Peterson watched her daughter write a message to Prince on a white sheet full of thanks and goodbyes that had been hung on the fence, she added, “He loved Minnesota.”

Kate Tucker, 62, biked over from the neighboring suburb of Eden Prairie and asked a stranger to take a photo of her posing in her helmet next to a psychedelic drawing of Prince hanging on the fence.

She had never bought one of his CDs or seen him in concert, but that didn't mean she wasn't a fan. “He put Minneapolis on the map,” Tucker said.

Hundreds of public figures shared memories of the star, including President Obama, who is in London for diplomatic meetings.


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