Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Alcohol contributes to two locals' deaths

A 33-year-old Key West woman who lived on the streets died Sunday morning in her sleep after detoxifying from alcohol at a friend's home, according to police reports released this week.

Colleen Rose Knoth, a native of Grosse Pointe, Mich., was found lying on a red comforter draped on the floor of an apartment behind 2434 Fogarty Ave. Joseph Kitchen, her friend who had long tried to help her find her way to sustained sobriety, mourned her death as a loss to addiction.

Her passing was not an isolated event. Within the same hour, across Old Town at 711 Catherine St., police found the body of 47-year-old Terril Schmidt in his rented home, his floor littered with empty alcohol bottles and cigarette butts, officers said. Unlike Knoth, Schmidt died alone, with no companion to tell his story.

In both cases, an official cause of death hasn't been determined, but neither is considered suspicious, Monroe County Medical Examiner Dr. E. Hunt Scheuerman said Tuesday.

Alcohol appeared to be a factor in both cases, according to police reports.

Knoth was staying with her friend, Kitchen, who said she had become ill while trying to sober up from vodka.

When asked Tuesday what killed her, Kitchen said, "The disease of addiction."

Tests on both bodies, including toxicology, are pending and results aren't expected for at least six weeks, said Scheuerman.

Knoth had just been released from jail two weeks ago Tuesday after having been locked up for seven months, said Kitchen.

After seven months of forced sobriety, Knoth began drinking once she got out, he said.

"When she got out she made the wrong choice," said Kitchen. "She picked up. Once she picked up then she has no choice, she has to drink. She couldn't believe that in a week and a half she had to drink to avoid the shakes."

Kitchen said he had visited Knoth while she was in jail to talk about recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. He had hoped she would enter a treatment program, such as one offered by Samuel's House.

Knoth had a criminal history in Key West that includes a March misdemeanor conviction for drinking alcohol on Higgs Beach, and a 2011 arrest for illegal possession of prescription drugs that led to a jail treatment program, according to court records.

An autopsy was performed on Knoth but not on Schmidt, who hailed from Kansas.

Knoth last week was living on the streets until Kitchen found her at Higgs Beach and invited her to come stay with him in New Town to sober up, he said. She arrived Friday, but by the next day was showing severe signs of detoxification from alcohol that included delirium tremens, said Kitchen.

She didn't want to go to the hospital when he asked. Kitchen said he tried to care for her. By Saturday night, they went to sleep -- she on the floor and he in his bed.

About 6:35 a.m., Kitchen told police, he woke up and called out to Knoth to check on her. When she didn't respond, he said he went to gently shake her and found her cold to the touch. He called 911.

Kitchen told police that Knoth "drank heavily and had for some time," Officer Kuniko Keohane wrote in his report.

Police officers said they notified her brother, Joe Knoth, in person. He lives just a few block away.

Officers found two bags of her clothes outside the makeshift apartment.

"I could see hope in her eyes," said Kitchen, who on Jan. 15 plans to mark four years of clean time from drugs. "I could see that she wanted something different, she just didn't know how. She had a beautiful soul."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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