The Saga of Bill Carter, Part 5

October 14, 2010

Connor Carter loved to practice riding his unicycle. His father called him “Superman.” Connor loved his dogs and sports and music and good food. He was quick-witted and kind and gentle. In short, he was a healthy, well-adjusted, happy, self-confident, and marvelously normal 14-year-old boy. Whether or not the fentanyl patch caused the death of Connor Carter is something that will probably never be known.

Editor's Note: The following short series involves a case in which the author was involved. Read Part 1 ,Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. This is the final part.

Part 5: Beautiful, Fragile Creatures

On an unseasonably warm September night I drove out to Lancaster County following a harvest moon through the cornfields and past the hay bales to meet Bill and Barbara Carter for the first time. They had invited me to attend a memorial service to commemorate Connor and to inaugurate a charitable fund called Caring Does Count (CDC) that has been established in Connor’s name, which in its entirety is Connor David Carter.

My wife was working, so I brought my children along and we were terribly underdressed. I sheepishly apologized to Barbara for my son and daughter’s short pants and T-shirts and my own jeans and flannel shirt and she warmly hugged me and said “Honey, you are in Lancaster County - you can wear whatever you like.” We briefly and awkwardly chatted and smiled before I pulled my kids away to eat some meatballs and pasta and listen to Connor’s siblings and friends give short, sad, tear-filled tributes to their dead friend, a thing that no teenager should have to prepare.

Connor Carter loved to practice riding his unicycle (in fact the Caring Does Count foundation uses a unicycle as its logo). His father called him “Superman.” Connor loved his dogs and sports and music and good food. He excelled in science and math and struggled with reading and literature. He was quick-witted and kind and gentle. In short, he was a healthy, well-adjusted, happy, self-confident, and marvelously normal 14-year-old boy. He was the most precious thing in the lives of his parents and family and everyday without him is somehow hollow.

Whether or not the fentanyl patch caused the death of Connor Carter is something that will probably never be known. Might it have contributed to his death? Perhaps, but the postmortem serum levels argue against that. Might it have been the pulmonary embolus that was found at autopsy? Perhaps. The coroner believes that the blood clot occurred after the boy was already dead, but if that’s the case, then why weren’t there blood clots everywhere? Could his death have something to do with the enlarged heart that was found at autopsy? I don’t know and neither does anyone else.

The biggest mystery of this whole case is why, after knowing the details of the death of Connor Carter, the District Attorney of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, acted in the way that he did. Such cold, bureaucratic arrogance and heartless, mindless application of law to souls suffering in the depths of torment is awesome in its cruelty and inhumanity.

My involvement with the Carters’ case has caused several sleepless nights in my own house. I’ve kept my wife up too late too many nights, asking her opinion about some detail of the toxicological analysis or the autopsy findings or asking her to proofread this series of essays. She is tired of hearing about it and in frustration she has asked me why, since Dr. Carter has his medical license back (but not his DEA license) this is so important. And I have to admit that I’m not sure. It just seems that there are times when the world spins too fast and tilts too far and falls out of sync and off its axis a little and despite my better sense I feel responsible to try to set it back again. What does that say about me?

And somewhere above it all, Connor Carter will be 14 years old forever. He rides his unicycle in an empty sea of sun and clouds and stars and looks down and smiles at we fragile beautiful creatures.

The Caring Does Count Foundation accepts donations for the Connor Carter Scholarship Fund, and awards a character recognition award every year to a graduating senior. Donations can be sent to “Connor’s Scholarship Fund” C/O the Caring Does Count Foundation, Hempfield High School, 200 Stanley Avenue, Landisville, PA 17538. Donations to the Bill Carter legal defense fund can be mailed C/O Stacie Self at 1464 Drake Lane, Lancaster, PA 17601.