PASCO COUNTY, Fla. - A local woman's death is shrouded in mystery and her mother believes it's because local law enforcement didn't do its job.
The I-Team has been looking into how the 36-year-old Pasco County woman suddenly passed away.
There are questions about why investigators never went inside the home where she died and whether that violates policy.
"So she's always on my mind. You can't imagine the emptiness and the loneliness that a mother feels to lose her child," said Mary Rinnier.
There is nothing ordinary about the death of an otherwise healthy 36-year-old woman and nothing that can prepare a family for the devastating loss.
"Why? That's the big question is why? Doesn't anybody care?" Mary asked.
On that June morning in 2008, Laura Bowdoin's husband George said he went to wake his wife, only to find her unconscious.
The Pasco Medical Examiner's report cited the cause of death as Zolpidem toxicity, which means an overdose of Ambien, although several experts the I-Team contacted say the widely prescribed sleep medicine is rarely fatal
The medical examiner's report shows the 'manner of death' as undetermined, meaning they weren't able to say if Laura's death was accidental or if it could've been a suicide.
"No. I don't believe it for one minute. She loved her daughter. She would never leave her daughter," Mary said.
Laura's mother believed something else happened. That's why she hired private investigator, Mike Peasley. The former sheriff's deputy says the Pasco County Sheriff's Office dropped the ball.
"I would have secured that house. I would taken and gotten the story from the husband," Peasley said.
Laura and George, who had been married for 11 years and had a 7-year-old daughter, were going through a divorce at the time. Documents reveal Laura and George each had long-standing life insurance policies worth close to one million dollars in their names.
George is not accused or under investigation in Laura's death. Laura's mother fears crucial evidence that would better explain her death was irretrievably lost.
"They didn't go into the home and she was actually dead in the home," Mary said.
While the Pasco sheriff declined an interview, a spokesman for the agency said they had no evidence that Laura's death was anything other than an accidental overdose.
"At the time of the incident, all we had was a dead woman. We did not have any evidence of a crime," said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll.
But, out of 12 current and former members of law enforcement that the I-Team contacted across the country and asked to review the case files, nine believe that Pasco County Sheriff's Office failed to properly investigate the death of Laura Bowdoin.
Experts like former Manatee County sheriff's homicide detective, Ned Foy.
"There were certain things that jumped right out at me in review of the report ," Foy said. "To surrender that scene without even going into it, is not conducive to a complete and thorough investigation of this death."
And the I-Team discovered while deputies responded to the hospital and sent a deputy to wait outside the home, it appears the Pasco Sheriff's Office did not follow its own written guidelines which specify how all deaths should be investigated.
That includes taking pictures and gathering evidence at the scene. The Sheriff's Office maintains it did follow policy.
But the I-Team reviewed the medical examiner's files for every undetermined overdose death investigated by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for a five year period. There were 15, and either photographs were taken or the scenes investigated, something that didn't happen with Laura's death.
"There was nothing on the woman's body to indicate anything was strange in this case. It looked to be either a medical condition or possibly an overdose," said sheriff's spokesman Doll. "Every county has a lot of young people overdosing on prescription medication. There's no doubt about that. But that does not relinquish your responsibility to conduct a complete and thorough investigation of those deaths also."
Over George Bowdoin's objections, Laura's mother has been fighting a losing legal battle in Florida and her home state of Delaware where Laura is buried. She wants her daughter's body exhumed to find some other possible explanation for her death.
"I will go to my grave trying to get justice for my daughter because I know she did not do this," Mary said.
The Pasco Sheriff's Office stands by its handling of Laura's death, but says if anyone has any additional evidence they would consider reopening the case.
The I-Team did speak with George Bowdoin's attorney, who responded in a one-page letter.
The complete statement from attorney Michael D. Fluke is as follows:
While the death of Laura Bowdoin is certainly tragic, the idea that George Bowdoin had any involvement in her death is simply untrue and without basis. Laura Bowdoin died of an Ambien overdose. The case was
investigated by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, an autopsy was performed, and at no time was there any evidence presented that would indicate the involvement of George Bowdoin. Nothing contained in the autopsy report indicates any possible alternative cause of death.
At the time of the investigation, George did willingly and freely speak with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. It was only after I learned of the completely baseless allegations Ms. Rinnier had made against George that I informed the Sheriff's Office that I would not allow my client to spend any more time addressing these unfounded allegations when he could be attending to the needs of his family.
Over the years since the death of Laura Bowdoin, her mother, Mary Rinnier has repeatedly attempted to convince the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to re-open the case. In a most accommodating manner, the Pasco County Sheriff's office has offered Ms. Rinnier and her attorneys the opportunity to provide any evidence that would allow them to consider re-opening the case. To date, nothing provided to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office or the Medical Examiner's office have caused either to believe there is any merit in re-opening the case.
I find the timing of Ms. Rinnier's coming to the press interesting as she has just recently suffered a Dismissal of her case and probate court and a Judgment against her for attorney fees. While I feel for Ms. Rinnier and her inability to move past the loss of her daughter, George is faced with the task of raising his child on his own and finding a way to proved her bot comfort and closure. Even upon the onset of Ms. Rinnier's efforts to exhume the body of her daughter some three years after her daughter's passing, the exhumation would have been extremely unlikely to yield anything of forensic significance.
Since her initial suit in Delaware to exhume the body, Ms. Rinnier has done little, if anything, to bring her case before the court. Ms. Rinnier's baseless and meritless attack of George Bowdoin only serves to prolong her own granddaughter's healing process
I thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.