The mystery of why Joe Loudon died deepens, and his family is not going to "let it pass."

The family of Joe Loudon, the 16-year-old Miramonte High sophomore who collapsed at an Orinda party on May 23 and died, received more heartbreak this week.

It came in the form of a letter than answers one key question about the coroner’s findings from his autopsy. Unfortunately, that answer pretty much compounds the mystery even more, over how and why this healthy, athletic boy suddenly collapsed at a party.

This letter also shakes the family’s faith in how authorities have investigated Joe’s death. Actually, this faith has pretty much eroded to nothing in the months since Joe’s death. And despite “extreme pressure” from some members of the Orinda community to “just let this pass,” Joe’s family will not stop seeking answers.

“We continue to draw strength from the courageous [other] members of the community who share our sorrow and outrage at this terrible situation,” says Joe’s uncle and godfather, Thomas Payne. “Over and over again, we hear from mothers of elementary school kids–who are frightened that their kids will grow up in a community with no moral compass. Some ask what they can do, and many are taking action. We are very thankful for this.”

This above-mentioned letter comes from the Northern California Transplant Bank, and it clears up the mystery of how an unusual prescription drug, papaverine–which is used to help people with circulatory problems–made its way into the Joe’s system.

The Contra Costa County Coroner’s Office had earlier ruled that Joe did not die of binge drinking, as initially suspected. As has been earlier reported, quite a number of teens were drinking at this party, hosted by a Hillcrest Drive neighbor and rugby teammate.

Rather, the coroner’s office concluded that high levels of the drug, combined with some alcohol, but not a high amount, caused Joe to vomit and to choke.

The thing is, no one had any clue as to how or why Joe would have this drug into his system. Back when the coroner’s findings were released, Orinda Police Chief Bill French said papaverine is not a drug his department had seen being used recreationally. However, the suspicion of recreational use lingered. Either Joe took it himself or someone slipped it to him, or so the speculation went. His family hired a private investigator and put out a plea to the Orinda community, asking if anyone had a prescription for papaverine. Maybe, the family thought, one of Joe’s friends or classmates had found the drug in the family medicine cabinet and decided to give it a try for fun, or they mistook it for another prescription drug to get high on.

It turns out that Joe didn’t take the drug himself, and no one slipped it to him. That’s what Joe’s family learned this week from the letter sent by the transplant bank.

Allen Brown, executive director of the transplant bank, said staffers at the Oakland organization introduced papaverine to Joseph’s system to prepare his vessels for the tissue-donation process, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Because the drug is a vasodilator, it relaxes the muscles in blood vessels and makes them bigger.

The blood samples that the coroner analyzed for the autopsy were provided by the transplant bank after staffers had injected the drug into his system. “We take full responsibility for (the autopsy) finding,” Brown wrote in a letter to Joseph’s mother, Marianne Payne. “I want to formally apologize.”

So, now the coroner’s findings on cause of death is in doubt. For Joe’s mother, Marianne Payne, and her brother, Thomas Payne, news about the mistake related to the papaverine and the blood samples just adds to their grief.

“All I can say is: yes, we have lost all confidence in the Orinda police the corner’s office and the Sheriff’s deapartment,” Thomas Payne said in an e-mail to me. He added that Joe had no physical conditions that would have contributed to his death.

The family also believes that a serious crime or crimes was committed: “Alcohol was provided by adults to Joe who was a minor. In California, a death caused in the commission of a crime is the definition of manslaughter.”

So far, police are pursuing criminal charges against three people, including the party’s 18-year-old host, Patrick Gabrielli, and Gabrielli’s sister. But not for manslaughter–for allegedly furnishing alcohol to minors.

Adding to the Paynes’ frustration is that the information in the police report, which they finally received, is “quite sketchy and provides no timeline,” Thomas Payne said. “It especially does not provide information on the long period of time after Joe collapsed until 911 was finally called. We believe this time period coincided with at least one visit from the Orinda police who did not enter the [home of the hosts] while Joe was either dead or dying.”

I earlier reported that police twice visited the Hillcrest Drive home the night Joe collapsed. French says police first went to the Gabrielli’s home at around 10:30 p.m. Gabrielli was hosting the party while his parents were out of town. French says officers, there to investigate a noise complaint, spoke to a girl, supposedly Gabrielli’s sister. The officers saw “nothing unusual,” including no minors drinking alcohol, and left.

It turns out that there were quite a number of teens at the home, and quite a bit of drinking going on. Payne says the family has learned that kids at the party tried and were successful at reviving Joe after he collapsed in a hallway: “So, in reality he died twice that night.”

17 thoughts on “The mystery of why Joe Loudon died deepens, and his family is not going to "let it pass."

  1. This is so sad and tragic. Soup to nuts the Orinda Police are engaging in a cover up or the Gabrelli family are a powerful and connected family.

    An outside investigation should be done.


  2. Has there been any official statement by the Contra Costa County Sheriff about the work by the coroner's office?

    Is this an isolate case where a sample is analyzed without proper chain of custody, or is that standard procedure in the office?


  3. I hope that Joe's family has a private investigator . Sounds like there is alot to check out. Now that we know he did not die from the papavarine, we are left with the truth. He died from acute alcohol intoxication. Therefore, the suppliers of the alcohol are going to face the music.
    I will be happy to serve on the jury. No Orinda This will no get swept under the rug.The jury will have people from outside the Village .

    Also time for a new coroner and a new sheriff!!


  4. “..we are left with the truth. He died from acute alcohol intoxication.”

    I read he only had a small amount of alcohol in his system so I don't think that is true.


  5. Anon 6:55 “He died from acute alcohol intoxication”? I don't think we will ever know this for sure. The coroner's report found only a small amount of alcohol. But based on the mess they made with papaverine nobody will have faith in their report.

    How many times will we allow the Sheriff to drop the ball before there are consequences?


  6. “Alcohol was provided by adults at the party” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Unless you mean the kid who had just turned 18 3 weekes before & his 19 year old sister. I would be more inclined to call them “peers” to the other party goers.

    “left w/ the truth…acute alcohol intoxication” Wrong again. Assuming the coroner got that right, Joe had 0.03% blood alcohol level – about 1/2 can of beer and no drugs in his system at the time of the party.

    I believe it was something organic, preexisting in his system, that killed Joe. He had extreme asthma, maybe it was complications from that? A dear friend of mine had an asthma attack & died in front of her husband – when she was revived by paramedics she had lost all her vision & remains blind to this day.

    Sadly, I don't believe we will ever be able to determine the exact cause at this point.


  7. Why didn't the host of the party PJ and Ali Gabrielli and others who where there not call 911 when Joe first needed CPR?

    As for PJ being chosen Captain of the football team, Captains of teams are chosen, among many other things, based on their leadership skills as well as their ability to set a good example on and off the field. PJ planned the party and he bought the alcohol along with a few other people. He was also one of the friends who failed to get Joe the help he needed. Shame on the team, the school and his parents for accepting this role. They even charged a entrance fee.


  8. Dober večer. The cause according to the Orinda Police was the fact that the party goers failed to call 911 and let Joe die. He did not have asthma. Srečno.


  9. What is that language? Is someone trying to make fun of people's heratige? Why would a post have a foreign language then a comment? strange.


  10. This not CSI. This is not a conspiracy. This is not hard to understand, though it is plainly hard to accept:

    Joe died because of Joe. No blame shifting or finger pointing or inflammatory calls for “manslaughter” charges can change that immutable fact.

    Let's be rational: The police left because they didn't see any crime and, by law, had to leave. The kids didn't call 911 because a) they didn't think he was in real trouble and b) they were scared to get busted or to get Joe busted. His phone went missing because someone stole it when he was passed out or because they were goofing him by taking pictures of him. Either way, they probably realized the seriousness of this later and got rid of it. Same goes for changing any data, though iPhones automatically transfer data if set to do so. A simple subpoena would get the text messages from AT&T.

    Unfortunately, by publicly demanding serious charges and making baseless conspiratorial accusations, Joe's family has effectively destroyed any possibility of learning anything more. If I were a witness facing this, I wouldn't hesitate to shut up entirely.

    The facts remain: Joe was not the angel his family portrays him to be, he drank of his own free will, he passed out at a teenage party and he choked on his own vomit. Sure, they should've called 911 sooner. But Joe's death will never be anyone's responsibility but Joe's.


  11. Whoever posted the above comment saying that the only person responsible for Joe's death is Joe is possibly one of the dumbest human beings alive.

    Joe didn't drink himself to death. Read the article. This incident had nothing to do with alcohol in any way, shape, or form, other than by being a crime that gave selfish and cowardly teenagers an excuse not to call for the help neccessary to save Joe's life.

    Blue lips? Excuse me? That's an immediate indication to call 911, or at the very least, actually stay around the person for an extended time to make sure they're okay. Instead his “friends” tossed him in a room by himself almost immediately after him having been administered CPR simply to get him out of the way of their good time.

    Yes. It is exactly true that 911 was not called on time because the kids involved didn't want to get in trouble. How does that make it okay in any conceivable way? It's a clear indication of selfishness, the kind of selfishness that kills.

    To recklessly disregard the life of someone you grew up with just for the sake of enjoying a party or protecting oneself is horribly, horribly immoral, and the fact that rampant self-preservation has become the norm in our society doesn't make it acceptable or, especially, something to be sympathized with and excused.

    It's essentially the same as killing him just to prevent being charged with crimes related to underage alcohol consumption, because that's what they did when they chose to risk his life for their own benefit: they killed him.

    And now, the mother who wants merely answers as to why she lost her apparently socially productive, highly contributing and intelligent son and who understandably and quite rightly seeks justice for those who have committed these reprihensible acts is shunned, criticized, and treated as if SHE were the criminal for simply trying to discover what we should all desire more than anything: the truth, if for no other reason than to help prevent it from happening to any other youth who lives in the same community, who goes to the same school, who is the son or daughter of any of the very same parents who have chastised her for doing only what any caring parent, or indeed human, would and should be expected to do.

    Situations such as this, the people responsible who continue to this day to perpetrate unjustice by their silence, and comments made by such insensitive, inhumane morons such as the one mentioned above, are constant, painful reminders that the communities we live in, and the people that inhabit them, are for the most part morally bankrupt, and that this world is mostly bereft of hope for the pure of heart.

    It makes me wish I was Joe.


  12. More stupidity above.

    So basically you're saying, “Maybe teens should not be teens.”

    Beware, people. Stupidity runs amuck out there.


  13. Born and raised and Lamorinada and know how snoopy everyone likes to be. Parents talk and believe what ever the next one said but the truth is joe barely had anything to drink kids like pj throw parties all the times and there is nothing people can do about it, shit happens but this does bring opportunity for new ideas of how to prevent such events from happening. Maybe none of this would have happened if parents were there supervising the party or is that too european for most people


  14. All of the students, friends, and team-mates who stepped over Joe as he struggled for life are not bad people. But it is fair to say they're not the kind of people who look out for others. They dragged him to a bedroom, shut the door, and he choked to death on his own vomit. When they found him, they showed him up and didn't call 911 because they didn't want to get in trouble. They did what most people in California would do. They will rationalize their inaction, their behavior, and finally minimize their role and deny their culture problem. It is the world we live in – and at the end of the day you can only look out for yourself, because even your best friends will step over you when you need them most.


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