Former coach accused of distributing kratom to athletes at 2 Routt County high schools

Steamboat Springs and Hayden police are investigating the alleged distribution of kratom to high school athletes by a coach who previously worked in both school districts. Kratom is derived from a tree and is not approved for medical use by the FDA.
City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy photo

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:50 p.m. with comments from the Hayden Police Department.

The Steamboat Springs and Hayden police departments are investigating the potential distribution of kratom to high school athletes.

Both investigations involve allegations that Casey Schaeffel distributed kratom, an herbal extract that is not approved for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration, to athletes while working as a coach in both school districts, according to a news release from Steamboat Springs on Friday, March 3.

“We’re talking about a vulnerable population of students who trust a coach or coaching staff person and the stuff that they’re being given is dangerous,” Steamboat Springs Interim Chief Mark Beckett said on Friday, March 3. “Parents need to be mindful of knowing what their kids are getting, and I would not trust anybody with something like that. Do your own research.”

Schaeffel was briefly the head coach of the Hayden High School boys basketball team, according to Hayden Superintendent Christy Sinner. However, in late January, he was described by Sinner as “out of the district” with no return date. Because it was a personnel issue, no other details were given about his departure, according to Sinner.

The previous coach, Bryan Richards, took over the team to ensure the Tigers could keep competing.

Hayden police learned of the allegations through the school, then began an investigation in late January, according to Hayden Detective John Kregar, and sent the findings to the district attorney in February. However, tips are still coming in and the investigation is ongoing.

Hayden police later shared information with the Steamboat department.

“We first learned about it from Hayden PD,” Beckett said. “They had another coach that worked with the subject in question come forward to them as a witness who saw this stuff being distributed to the kids. … Hayden, through their investigation, learned he was also a strength and conditioning coach at the (Steamboat Springs) high school, so they reached out to us.”

Around the same time, a Steamboat high school student approached School Resource Officer Lisa Eifling with information about the same coach providing athletes with some sort of substance.

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Schaeffel was a part-time assistant coach for the 2022 Steamboat football team between August to October, according to the Steamboat Springs School District Director of Communications Laura Milius.

“He is no longer employed, and he is not returning to the district,” Milius said.

Beckett said the district did not have a lot of input during the investigation, since Schaeffel was a former seasonal employee. Investigators used a football roster as a starting point and have since spoken with “quite a few athletes from that program.”

“We’ve had several verify that they were given capsules with a powdery substance in them,” Beckett said. “None of them seemed to know exactly what it was, although it is consistent with Hayden’s investigation.”

Both police departments have submitted investigations to the District Attorney’s Office, and Schaeffel is scheduled to appear in Routt Combined Court on Wednesday, March 8, in regards to the Hayden investigation. The proposed charges are for distributing kratom to minors and reckless endangerment, according to Detective Kregar.

Milius said the district has not yet communicated the situation to all parents, but school officials plan to do so in the next parent newsletter.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, and consumption of its leaves can have stimulant effects in low doses, sedative effects in high doses, and can lead to psychotic symptoms, and psychological and physiological dependence.

Side effects can include weight loss, liver damage, muscle pain, breathing complications and possibly seizure, coma or death.

The DEA has listed kratom as a Drug and Chemical of Concern, and the FDA classified kratom as an opioid in 2018. It is a violation of Colorado law for an adult to provide kratom to a minor.

Steamboat police are encouraging anyone who’s concerned about school safety to utilize to anonymously report issues and to potentially add to the ongoing investigation.

“We’re hoping more families come forward and can give us more information and help our investigation,” Beckett said.

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