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What Happened? How Did a Diabetic Man With a Hypoglycemic Episode End Police Officer's Life?

Posted Dec 18 2008 8:12pm

Police are still baffling over what happened Sept. 12 when a police officer who was coming to the aid of a man with diabetes ended up being killed by the man, who was known for violent behavior when his blood sugar fell dangerously low.

Brier, Washington (state) police officer Eddie Thomas died on Sept. 12 after a skirmish with Gary Starks, a gun-owning man with diabetes, The Herald reported yesterday.

In fact, three years ago, Starks, the man with diabetes, had "fought with medical personnel trying to give him an insulin shot and a police officer had to restrain him," according to police reports obtained by Herald reporters Diana Hefley and Jackson Holtz.

Evidently, Starks' wife had made the exact same type of call "a number of times previously," according to The Herald. And on Sept. 12, she again called 911 to report that her husband, a diabetic, needed medical treatment.

Now police are trying to figure out what happened. The Herald says simply: "Thomas, 28, died after a struggle with Starks. The cause of the officer's death remains a mystery. Detectives continue to investigate the incident... Investigators are waiting for a final report from the medical examiner, Everett police Sgt. Boyd Bryant said. That report may not be ready for another month."

Thankfully, reporters Hefley and Holtz did their homework.

They contacted Dr. Richard Hellman, president-elect of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, who reportedly told them that "Extreme low blood sugar levels can be difficult to manage and are often very dangerous."

Dr. Helman told the reporters that "when blood sugar levels drop too low, a condition known as hypoglycemia [sets in, and], judgment can be impaired and patients can become timid, frightened or combative. Patients might not remember the episode."

The Herald points out that "Gary Starks' blood sugar level was recorded at 33 and 20 during two incidents, according to the police reports." (Yikes, that's low and quite dangerous!)

In fact, Dr. Hellman noted, "At those levels, many patients have seizures or lose consciousness."

Dr. Hellman further observed that managing low blood sugar levels "requires a tricky balance of medicine, diet and exercise" and that "any change can upset the equation and cause a hypoglycemic episode.

"Judgment gets screwed up right away," the specialist said. "It's not unusual for people to get violent, especially when someone's trying to get them to do something."

Interestingly, Starks, 55, was initially arrested for investigation of third-degree assault, but within hours, The Herald reported, "a judge ordered him released without imposing bail. No charges have been filed." I suspect that they didn't take legal action because of Starks' diabetes and documented incidents of low blood sugar.

This tragic incident leads me to wonder: What exactly was Starks doing -- or not doing as the case may be? Did Starks neglect to properly manage his blood sugar level, and in so doing, did he jeopardize his life and ultimately kill the policeman?

Connie's Comments: More Violence on the Way?

Frankly, I'm quite alarmed and concerned about the potential for more diabetes-related violence, which could come about because diabetics don't properly manage their blood sugar levels.

Indeed, I find this increasingly worrisome. Think about it. As the number of diabetics rapidly escalates and as people with diabetes don't take proper care of their disease, the possibility of unnecessary crime could escalate. (Right now, the U.S. now has nearly 21 million diabetics, which comes to about 7 percent of the U.S. population, as I reported here previously.)

Please, if you have diabetes, take good care of yourself! What happened with Starks could occur with you, too!

Just ponder the horrific consequences: If you have diabetes and you don't strictly manage your blood sugar levels, you could get a heavy-duty hypoglycemic episode. And when in the throes of a low blood sugar attack, you could become quite irrational, confused, confrontational, anxious, and even quite violent or, as in this case, unwittingly murderous.

I won't presume to guess what led Starks to kill that poor police officer (who was only trying to help), but I believe that I can safely suspect that he just neglected to take proper care of his diabetes and therefore his blood sugar plummeted. Then he simply had no control over what he did next. ('Course keeping a gun with his condition was sheer folly, in my opinion.)

The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse says that -- and I'm quoting verbatim here -- "in people taking certain blood-glucose lowering medications, blood glucose can fall too low for a number of reasons:

  • "meals or snacks that are too small, delayed, or skipped
  • "excessive doses of insulin or some diabetes medications, including sulfonylureas and meglitinides (Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, biguanides, and thiazolidinediones alone should not cause hypoglycemia but can when used with other diabetes medicines.)
  • "increased activity or exercise
  • "excessive drinking of alcohol."

Was Starks committing one of the above offenses?

Or was he eating a lot of sugary foods, which doctors and experts told me also could mess up a diabetic's blood sugar levels.

The fact remains that it's absolutely imperative for a diabetic to pay very strict attention to what, when, and how much he eats and drinks, as well as how much and when he exercises, and if he's taking medication, when and how much he adminsters.

Already, some doctors have spoken out about the fact that diabetics need to take better care of themselves because of their disease. But I don't think were thinking about other people they might unnecessarily harm because of their neglectful behavior.

Clearly, it's up to medical educators, people like me, and other members of the media to alert the public -- especially those with diabetes or with family member(s) who have diabetes -- that they have to properly manage their blood sugar levels. Not being vigilant could, as we've seen here, become quite deadly.

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