CINCINNATI – An Indiana couple admitted to taking heroin and overdosing outside a McDonald's restaurant in Green Township while their children played nearby and one of the pair is scheduled for trial Monday.
Robert Palmer, 37, was found guilty of two counts of child endangerment stemming from the March 9 incident at the McDonald's at 5425 N. Bend Rd. His girlfriend, Tamica Jeffers, 33, is scheduled to begin her trial Monday.
The couple from Dillsboro, Ind., was found in the play area of the fast-food eatery, according to the affidavit from the Hamilton County Municipal Court.
Police say the pair collapsed in front of their two children. Jeffers was conscious but unresponsive, while Palmer was unconscious and not breathing.
The two were taken to Mercy West Hospital where they each told Cpl. T. Icenogle that they had used heroin.
The drug use resulted in a life-threatening overdose, the affidavit said. It was said in court there was no evidence the heroin was taken at the McDonald's.
The children, a 6-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy, were in the couple's care and playing nearby at the time of the overdose.
Only one of the children is Palmer's, according to information said in court on Thursday, but the judge reviewed McDonald's security tape and found he was responsible for the care of both of children at the time.
"It's an unusual set of circumstances," Green Twp. Police Chief Bart West said. "I've never heard of a case where we had kids in a restaurant like this where someone overdosed on heroin."
Restaurant employees and customers used a defibrillator on the man for eight minutes until paramedics arrived.
First responders thought Palmer had suffered a heart attack and died, but the Mack Life Squad was able to revive him. Until Jeffers was interviewed at the hospital, those at the McDonald's who saw her assumed she'd had a seizure.
Court records show both pleaded not guilty.
"Their obligation is to take care of the kids and make sure they're safe, and in this case they were using heroin and the children could have been ... anything could have happened to them," West said.
Palmer's next court date is set for April 14 when it will be determined if he will be able to go to a nursing facility. He suffers from Crohn's disease and needs special medical attention than he is getting in the Hamilton County Justice Center so his defense team asked for a low bond.
That request was denied for now.
Municipal Court Judge Megan Shanahan ordered him to stay away from the two children. Initially Palmer's relationship to them wasn't clear; neither shared his last name, according to court records.
Mary Haag, head of the Coalition for a Drug Free Greater Cincinnati is working to prevent drug use and make communities safer. She believes early prevention can prevent overdoses like what happened Sunday.
"It's sad. It's horrible," Haag said. "It's not good for the entire family. It's not good for us as a society or community. It's why we have to get to these addictions and have them treated."
"Prevention needs to come first. We start early. We start often so that folks don't progress to this level of abuse and addiction -- these harder, highly addictive drugs."
Indiana children's service workers were called, according to a spokesman for Hamilton County Job and Family Services.
“The safety and well being of our customers and employees are always our top priority,” McDonald’s owner and franchisee said in a statement. "In this situation, I'm proud that both crew and customers took quick action to respond to this emergency and call 911 for medical attention."
Three other overdoses apparently occurred the same day in the Green Township area.
"We have someone assigned to the drug unit to try to stop the supply by arresting the people that are selling heroin and when we come across heroin in our daily activities, then we charge people with possession," West said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.