DEATH OF AN ECO WARRIOR

LEROY JACKSON TRANSFORMED HIMSELF FROM A PHOENIX STREET WINO INTO A CHARISMATIC NAVAJO ENVIRONMENTALIST. HIS FRIENDS THINK HE WAS MURDERED FOR HIS EFFORTS.

He called Earl Tulley of Din‚ C.A.R.E. to talk about the next week's meeting in Washington, D.C. "Earl, this is your wakeup call," he said. Tulley found it a peculiar thing to say.

Jackson arranged for his sheep to be fed and watered and a thousand other details. "He was like a man that was running out of time," his mother says.

Then he got into his white Dodge van and drove off to meet his fate in Taos.
He attended the San Geronimo feast day at Taos Pueblo, and apparently conducted a number of good trades from what other traders recall. On September 30, he had intended to drive to another fair in Shiprock, in tandem with a Ute Indian trader named Buffalo. But since he had one last piece of business to take care of, he told Buffalo to go on without him.

On the morning of October 1, Jackson punctually showed up at Dick Spas' studio, Southwestern Art, with an 1890s Navajo rug that he had found for Spas. Jackson and Spas were longtime friends who rarely did business, but in this case, Spas wrote Jackson a check for $1,200 as payment for the rug. Then Spas escorted Jackson to the bank to cash the check.

"He seemed fine to me," Spas remembers. "We talked for an hour and a half."
Jackson then went to Old Taos, a gallery owned by Steve Eich, to pay off an $800 debt. Eich's wife, Cindy, thought he seemed out of sorts. "I noticed he was much less friendly than usual and I thought he had a headache because he was kind of distant," she says. "He was not his usual pat-on-the-back self. He was kind of looking off at the wall some of the time."

From Eich's store, he went to see a wool gathering and sheep demonstration that was also in town, and then the trail grows thin. He called Adella to remind her to bring the children and meet him in Shiprock, and he told her that he had run out of medication for his headaches, and that she should make a doctor's appointment for him so that he could get more. At five o'clock, he made a couple of calls to Utah to arrange where he would be staying that evening. Then he disappeared.

Adella looked for him at the Shiprock fair, and at first assumed she'd lost him in the crowd. The next day, when he hadn't called--as was his custom--and hadn't showed up in person, she called the police. She even drove to Farmington to file a missing person's report with the New Mexico police.

Jackson's friends organized a search party and combed the route between Shiprock and Taos, driving up each forest road two or three miles in the event that Jackson had pulled off to go for a run, which he often did when he felt a migraine coming on.

On October 6, Jackson's neighbor and physician, Dr. David Lange, had personally checked the rest area where Jackson was eventually found, and the van was not there. Nevertheless, on October 9, a New Mexico state trooper found the van in a turnout right next to the road. The doors were locked and the windows covered. Jackson was inside on the back seat; the officer who found him thought that the manner in which the blanket covered his face looked unnatural. Adella says he never slept with his face covered.

The autopsy revealed the presence of three drugs in Jackson's bloodstream: Valium at therapeutic levels, marijuana and methadone. Jackson took Valium for his headaches, along with Tylenol 3 with codeine; he was out of the latter. The marijuana, police report, was at levels low enough that he might have ingested it through secondhand smoke. The methadone was at low toxic levels, its effect likely exacerbated by the Valium. But how and why the methadone got into his system remains a mystery.

Adella claims that when her husband came down with a headache and was out of medication, he would go to a hospital emergency room to get a shot of Demerol. One theory offered by the police is that Jackson took the methadone as a painkiller.

Indeed, methadone was invented as a synthetic narcotic; its slow onset and long half-life in the body make it a mediocre painkiller, but an excellent way to satisfy the cravings of recovering heroin addicts and to relieve the worst symptoms of withdrawal. Why would Jackson take it willingly, unless he mistakenly thought it might ease the pain and still leave him clear-headed enough for his long drive?

No one recalls ever seeing Jackson so much as drink a beer or smoke a joint. On the other hand, both Valium and codeine are potentially addictive drugs, so he was no stranger to pharmaceuticals. His wife, however, says he would balk every time doctors tried to prescribe new drugs for him. "I don't want to be your experiment," he would tell them. And if he had questions about what to do, Adella, who is, after all, a nurse, says he would always call her to ask.

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