Family of Woman Accused in Mass Overdose Wants Answers After Prison Death

Chuny Ann Reed was awaiting trial for her connection to 8 deaths in the Central West End

click to enlarge Carolyn Reed holds an image of her daughter Chuny Ann Reed and granddaughter Emily, who has cerebral palsy. - THEO WELLING
Carolyn Reed holds an image of her daughter Chuny Ann Reed and granddaughter Emily, who has cerebral palsy.

This project was completed with the support of a grant from Columbia University's Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights in conjunction with Arnold Ventures.

Chuny Ann Reed’s family is still waiting for answers.

The Illinois State Police criminal investigation unit began looking into Reed’s death in late July after Reed — the only person charged in connection with a mass drug overdose event in early February that killed eight people in St. Louis — suddenly took ill at a Southern Illinois jail where she’d been incarcerated awaiting trial. She was taken to a hospital in Mount Vernon, Illinois, where she died on July 18.

For Carolyn Reed, Chuny Ann’s mother, the Illinois State Police investigation can not wrap up soon enough.

“They haven’t given me anything,” Reed says of the Illinois State Police and the Pulaski County Sheriff Department, which oversees the Tri-County Justice and Detention Center in Ullin, Illinois.

The center was where Chuny Ann was being held since her arrest in early February in connection with the mass overdose event at Parkview Apartments in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood.

Carolyn Reed says she believes her daughter died as a result of negligence based on the timeline she was given. Chuny Ann reported feeling sick on the morning of Thursday, July 13, but was not taken to a hospital until the next day, July 14, when Reed and her family drove up to see Chuny Ann.

By that time, her daughter was in a coma and breathing with the help of a ventilator, Carolyn Reed says.

“I saw no life in my daughter,” she says. “I’m angry…These guys were wrong. They were wrong for putting me through this pain and anguish, because you guys knew she was dead when she arrived at the hospital.”

After a monthslong wait, it looks like some answers could be coming soon, according to Roger Hayse, the coroner for Jefferson County, Illinois, where Mount Vernon is located.

Reed’s autopsy included a toxicology test, which detects and identifies chemicals, toxins, or poisons in a given sample. The results of the test have come back, according to Hayse.

“I talked to the pathologists,” he says. “They are sitting down this week and working on reports.”

The toxicology report for Reed could be written as early as Friday, according to Hayse.

Hayse declined to say if any evidence suggests foul play was a factor in Reed’s death.

“I haven’t talked to the Illinois State Police to see what they found on their end,” he says.

Trooper Jayme Bufford, an Illinois State Police spokesperson, declined to comment on specifics of the Reed investigation.

“The investigation remains active and ongoing,” Bufford wrote in an email in response to questions from the RFT.  “In order to protect the integrity of the investigation, no information is available at this time.”

At the time of her death, Reed was awaiting trial in St. Louis on a federal charge of distributing fentanyl and crack cocaine resulting in bodily injury at the Parkview Apartments, 4451 Forest Park Avenue. If convicted, she would have faced at least 20 years in prison.
Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid painkiller, had somehow contaminated the crack cocaine Reed had allegedly sold out of her apartment on Parkview’s 14th floor, causing 11 people to overdose. Eight of them died between February 5 and 7 of this year at Parkview and neighboring Park Place Apartments — the second deadliest mass opioid overdose in U.S. history and the subject of an RFT cover story whose print version came out the morning that Reed took ill.

The mother of four children, Reed had a long history of drug use and interaction with the criminal justice system. Family members say she dealt to support her own drug habit. She was not charged with causing any of the deaths at either Parkview or Park Place.

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