St. Petersburg Times

Ex-medic pleads guilty in drug theft
He took a powerful painkiller from the Sand Key fire station reportedly for pain from back and neck injuries.
By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
Published September 22, 2005

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A former Clearwater Fire Department medic pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing a powerful painkiller from a fire station this spring.

Darren Keith, 44, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of stealing a narcotic. Pinellas-Pasco Judge Thomas McGrady sentenced Keith to 18 months of probation and ordered him to pay court costs. The judge withheld a formal finding of guilt.

Keith was an 18-year department veteran when the allegations against him first arose. He resigned in March and has since started a handyman business to support his family, said Kym Rivellini, his attorney.

Rivellini said Keith suffered from neck and back injuries he incurred on and off his job. She said Keith could have taken workers' compensation and finished out a 20-year career behind a desk, but he wanted to finish in the field.

So on March 27, he stole two vials of fentanyl, an addictive drug 80 times more powerful than morphine. The vials were taken from the Sand Key fire station. Keith injected the drug the next day, officials said.

"He used it to self-medicate the pain. This was not for recreational use," Rivellini said. Keith replaced the drug in the vials with water, then told supervisors that something appeared wrong with the vials. Fire and police officials started to investigate and Keith later admitted he took the drug.

He told investigators he had a drug problem and had injected cocaine into his arm and under his tongue, according to police reports.

He turned himself in to police May 20. He was booked into the Pinellas County Jail and released on $5,000 bail.

Rivellini said Keith reported the tampered vials so no patients would be affected.

"Had he not done that, he would have never been caught," Rivellini said.

Fire officials said no patients were injured because of the theft.

The case prompted a city investigation that found morphine also had disappeared from a fire station near the Clearwater Mall. Police made no arrests in that case and said they did not suspect Keith.

A county audit also found that medics kept shoddy logs of the drugs they handled and violated routine record-keeping policies. Fire Chief Jamie Geer instituted additional checks to prevent further problems.

[Last modified September 22, 2005, 01:03:19]