Kurtis Hildreth, 18, came to Alaska after graduating high school. He was living with his aunt’s family in Wasilla to get a head start on the next phase of his life. But Hildreth’s life didn’t get a new beginning in the Last Frontier -- it ended abruptly, the young man found dead inside his room, a pipe filled with the synthetic drug known as Spice and a lighter, on the floor next to him. His family believes the drug killed him. But the state medical examiner and Alaska State troopers aren’t sure.
Hildreth moved from Florida to spend time with his aunt, Kerri Stevens, and her family at their Wasilla home. Stevens said she wanted to show Hildreth around Alaska and offer him a job in her family’s commercial glass shop. Stevens said she has always been close to Hildreth, her sister Kelli Farquer’s oldest child, and was even there when he was born. She was also there when he died on Nov. 16, 2013, opening Hildreth’s bedroom door to find her nephew’s body crumpled against the wall. Hildreth’s arms were still propped on the windowsill.
“Whatever hit him, (it) hit him hard and hit him fast,” Stevens said as she recounted her nephew’s death. “The pipe was right there by his feet. He was a healthy kid. The lighter was right there. The pipe was right there. He never had any kind of heart problems or seizures.”
Inside the pipe was some partially burned synthetic marijuana, commonly known as “Spice.” The drug is gaining popularity as a legal marijuana alternative. It is, in reality, an unknown combination of chemicals usually made in China and shipped to the U.S., where it is sprayed on plant material and packaged as incense or potpourri. Most of the packages have labels that say “not for human consumption” on them. And at $20 for two grams, it is extremely expensive -- for incense. But everyone knows what the mixture is really used for: to get high.
Stevens and Farquer are certain Spice killed the otherwise healthy Hildreth. But the Alaska Medical Examiner’s Office has listed his death as “undetermined.”
Officially, no one has died as a result of smoking Spice in Alaska. As in many suspected cases, an autopsy of Hildreth’s body did not turn up any medical conditions or problems. A toxicity screening of his blood, bile and other body fluids did not turn up any signs of illegal drugs or alcohol. Hildreth’s death -- like an average of 28 others each year in Alaska -- will likely go unsolved, medically speaking. But not if Hildreth’s family -- and an Illinois mother who started an Internet crusade after the Spice-related death of her own son -- has anything to do with it.