Ambien overdose is official cause of death for 36-year-old woman, but mother doesn't believe it

Mother seeks new autopsy and investigation

TAMPA - The call came in early in the morning on a June day in 2008.

"911, what's your emergency?"

"I can't wake my wife up."

"Is she breathing sir?"

"No I don't think so".

George Bowdoin spent the next 14 minutes on the phone with the 9-1-1 operator taking instructions on how to save his wife of ten years.

But it was too late.  Laura Bowdoin, 36, once a beaming bride and proud mother, would not breathe again, leaving behind a husband and her six-year-old daughter.

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"Laura was the perfect little lady.  Everybody wanted a child like Laura," remembered Laura's mother, Mary Rinnier.

Mary, who lives in Delaware, was immediately skeptical of the official cause of death from the Pinellas/Pasco medical examiner:  Zolpidem toxicity, basically an overdose of the popular sleep remedy Ambien.

Laura did not have a prescription for Ambien, but her husband George did.

"What was in her system could not possibly have killed her," said Mary.

With that belief, Mary Rinnier hired private investigator and former Pinellas Sheriff's deputy Michael Peasley.  

"I think it was just totally lazy police work," said Peasley.  

Peasley can't understand why Pasco County Sheriff's deputies who responded to the 9-1-1 call  never sent a detective or even entered the home in which an otherwise healthy 36-year-old woman died.  

"I would have secured that house.  I would have gotten the story from the husband.  I would have canvassed the neighborhood to find out if there was anything going on," said Peasley.

Peasley found two medical experts who disagreed with the medical examiner's conclusion based on Laura Bowdoin's autopsy and toxicology reports.  The iTeam found three more experts who doubt the original findings.

"I would continue to be suspicious," said Dr. L.J. Dragovich, Medical Examiner in Detroit, Michigan.

"The level was insufficient to have the death attributed to Zolpidem in and of itself,"  said forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht of Pennsylvania.

"Death by Zolipdem toxicity alone is very rare," said pharmaceutical expert Paul Doering of Gainesville.

Each expert was surprised the Pinellas/Pasco medical examiner and local law enforcement didn't look more closely at Laura's cause and manner of death.

The Pinellas/Pasco medical examiner had no comment, but the Pasco Sheriff's department defended their handling of the case.   

"We have to go with the evidence at the scene.  At the time of the incident,  all we had was a dead woman.  We did not have any evidence of a crime," said spokesman Kevin Doll.

Laura's mother Mary wants a renewed investigation and something else.  After five years, she wants her daughter's body exhumed for a second autopsy, something Laura's husband George is fighting.
Happy newlyweds a decade earlier, records show Laura filed for divorce from George a little over a month before her death.  They lived together, but slept apart.

Courts in both Pasco County and Delaware, where Laura is buried, are taking up the legal standoff over the second autopsy.

Since the manner of Laura's death is undetermined, it's possible she committed suicide.  But friends and family describe a happy young woman eager to get on with her new life.

A friend Laura made at her daughter's school doesn't believe Laura would take her own life.

"She idolized her child and I don't think she would have left her at the mercy of this world by committing suicide," said the friend who asked not to be named.

Even if Mary Rinnier succeeds in getting Laura's body exhumed for a second autopsy, exerts say tissue buried for five years may not yield any useful information.

Tidying up the brass marker over Laura Bowdoin's grave, Mary Rinnier showed the strain of her struggle.

"It's just hard for a mother.  It's not right that a child should go before you.  Not right at all."

Meanwhile, George Bowdoin is not now nor has he ever been a suspect in his wife's death.  We reached out to Bowdoin, asking why he decided to fight the second autopsy, and why he stopped answering questions from Sheriff's investigators. 

We heard back from his attorney, who, in a one-page letter said, "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 provide her both comfort and closure."


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.
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