Possible druggings worry locals
Police suspect date-rape drugs being slipped into drinks around Steamboat establishments
Steamboat Springs — A woman walked into Yampa Valley Medical Center on Friday unable to remember much of the past 12 hours. On Thursday night, she went out to a local bar, and after settling into an evening of drinking and socializing, she didn’t think much of accepting a drink from a stranger.
The next day, she realized she may have been drugged.
The woman’s experience was the most recent in a series of incidents Steamboat Springs police believe may have been caused by someone slipping date-rape drugs into drinks at local bars and restaurants.
While drugs such as Rohypnol, Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate (GHB) and Ketamine — all of which have been linked to date rapes — have been reported in the community before, police are particularly concerned about a rash of possible druggings that have taken place over the past three weeks.
The woman involved in the Friday incident, whom police would not identify, went immediately to the hospital for blood and urine tests and a rape kit to make sure no sexual assault occurred during her period of semi-consciousness.
She was the first possible drugging victim to report for testing within the short period of time it takes for Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine to leave the system.
“We feel very fortunate to have made contact with (someone in this situation) within 24 hours of the crime,” Steamboat Springs Police Detective Dave Kleiber said. “In the recent past, women have come forward three, four and five days after the fact.”
Because of her quick response, test results should indicate the presence of any drugs in her system, and police may have a lead in their investigation.
“GHB metabolizes through the system in eight to 12 hours after ingestion and Rohypnol leaves the body within 24 to 48 hours,” Drug Enforcement Administration agent Dennis Follett said. “If you feel you’ve been a victim of this crime, get into the hospital immediately.”
The woman’s fluid tests have been sent to the Colorado Department of Health for analysis, Kleiber said. Steamboat police should see results within four to six weeks.
“We are very anxious to see what we will see in those reports,” Kleiber said.
Four to six weeks will be a long wait for a police department dealing with an ever-increasing number of calls from women and friends of women reporting the use of date-rape drugs in Steamboat bars and clubs.
Twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Fritz is still horrified that it may have happened to her.
Fritz grew up in Steamboat and recently graduated from college in Boston. After graduation, she traveled to Fiji, Australia and New Zealand.
“Nothing like this ever happened to me in strange cities all over the world,” Fritz said. “It happened in my hometown.”
Fritz was out in a downtown bar two weeks ago with her best friend, she said. She remembers having four drinks over three hours.
“I wasn’t really drunk,” she said.
She doesn’t remember the person who handed her the last drink, but her friend later said that a man neither of them knew tried to get both women to sip from the drink he provided.
“She said that he was being really pushy,” Fritz said.
“(The effects) were immediate,” Fritz said. “My friend said that she had never seen me like that.”
Fritz doesn’t remember how she got home.
“My sister was awake when I got home and I scared her because I was so out of it,” Fritz said. “My motor skills were impaired, like I had just taken a handful of painkillers.
“I know I was lucky. I thank my friend every day for saving my life. If she hadn’t been as smart as she was, I could have had my life changed forever.”
Fritz said she has been telling everyone she knows about the incident so people will protect themselves.
“I haven’t felt as unsafe as I do in my own hometown.”
At least five cases have been reported to the Steamboat Springs Police Department in the past few weeks. However, of the women reporting stories similar to Fritz’s, none have been confirmed.
“We don’t want to create an undue amount of alarm here,” Detective Ross Kelly said. “Unfortunately, the victims’ memory of the events is foggy.”
Rohypnol pills, popularly known as “Roofies,” are a pharmaceutical drug produced in Mexico and Europe for sleeping disorders, Follett said.
“It is completely illegal in the United States,” he said. “It creates a disoriented, confused state and, in higher doses, renders the user unconscious.”
It also has an amnesiac effect, which explains why victims have a hard time piecing their stories together for police, he said.
“In most cases, people don’t realize how out of hand they were. That’s the scary part. It affects your memory and your judgment,” Kelly said.
Another drug possible in the Steamboat scenario is GHB, also known as “Liquid Ecstasy.”
“This drug is growing in popularity, and it is easily camouflaged in a drink,” Follett said. “It is odorless and colorless. Users say that it has a salty or metallic taste.”
Once slipped into a drink, its effects take 10 to 15 minutes to take hold.
“It feels like an intense intoxication,” Follett said. “It’s like drinking a 12-pack instantly.”
A 25-year-old woman, who asked not to be identified, was in a downtown bar Thursday night one week ago when she believes she was drugged.
She had two drinks — one glass of wine and one vodka with orange juice.
“I ordered a third drink and left it on the bar when I went to the bathroom.”
She returned to her drink and within minutes, she said, “I was really (drunk). I was a mess.”
Fortunately, she was with friends who recognized her condition and took her home immediately, she said.
“Why did this happen to me? I was with friends. I wasn’t talking to anyone else,” she said.
“My advice is that the community needs to learn how to protect themselves in all types of social settings,” Follett said. “On a date, at a party, in the bar — predators use these drugs to sedate their victims.”
Never accept a drink from anyone you don’t know, he said. Watch your drink being made by the bartender. Most importantly, “if you leave your drink behind, never go back to it. Get a new drink.”
Friends should discuss a safety plan before they go out for the evening.
“Think of a simple code word like ‘help’ if you think you may have been drugged,” Follett said. “Your friend should take you to the hospital immediately. These drugs can be lethal when combined with alcohol for certain people.”
And drugging can happen to anyone — no matter their social class, their behavior or their age.
It may have happened to 57-year-old Mary Wolf.
Wolf was celebrating her birthday last week at a downtown restaurant. She had a sip of “poor quality” wine and didn’t finish the glass. She and a 69-year-old friend then went to a different bar and Wolf ordered a gin and tonic.
“I know whether I’ve had too much to drink,” she said. “I left (the bar), took my friend home and when I got home, there was just something wrong.
“I didn’t feel good at all. It was like being drugged. My son asked me what was wrong. He thought I’d had way too much to drink. It was totally bizarre.”
Kelly would not name the establishments where the druggings allegedly took place because none of the cases have been confirmed. Date-rape drugs have cycled in and out of Steamboat and were linked to a sexual assault two years ago, he said.
No charges have been pressed and there are no suspects in the most recent occurrences.
“So far, we have drawn blanks,” Kelly said. “Because we’ve seen it spread across different bars for a period of time, it’s someone who is staying here.
“The person that is doing this has little or no regard for others. This is not a small town by virtue of the people who are here. People from all over the world come here to play and not all of them play fair.”
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