Thursday, August 1, 2013

Crash blamed on insanity could have been triggered by drug withdrawal

A Pendleton photographer suffering from mental illness caused one of the most spectacular wrecks the town had ever seen, yet walked away relatively unscathed, according to a story in the Aug. 22, 1913, East Oregonian.

O.G. Allen, 34, one of the proprietors of the Electric Studio on Court and for two years the official Round-Up photographer, was known to have periodic episodes of what was termed “insanity” at the time. He had been taken to St. Anthony Hospital early in the week and given sedatives to help with his insomnia. Allen became irrational the day of the accident and, at about 8:30 p.m., escaped from his attendants at the hospital and jumped into his car, which was parked outside the hospital. He drove the car standing up, sometimes waving both hands in the air, and yelling “O.G. Allen, Let ‘er Buck!” at about 50-60 mph down Southeast Court for 13 blocks. When he reached Main Street, Allen drove the car straight for the front of the Pendleton Drug Store. According to the story, “... the auto tore its way through the door and window, smashing showcases and scattering medicines, cigars, kodaks and stationary in every direction, finally turning sideways and coming to a stop near the rear of the room.”

No customers were in the store at the time of the crash, and George Hill, one of the proprietors, and a prescription clerk were in the office at the rear of the store when the car skidded through the store and came to rest against the rear counter. “Old Allen did it and all he lost was his cigar,” he said to the astonished men, after which he stepped out of the remnants of the car and picked up a fresh cigar from the hundreds scattered on the floor. His only injury was a small scratch on his forehead.

As Allen made to leave the store, he was met by Officer John Russell, who arrested him and locked him in a padded cell at the city jail. At the jail Allen became more rational, and broke down in tears when the officer told him what had happened. He said he had not slept for six days and he had been taking opiates “to quiet his nerves.” The nurses had refused to give him any of the drugs that day, he said, “and that’s what was the matter with me.”
Allen was committed to the Eastern Oregon State Hospital the next morning after being pronounced insane by Dr. R.E. Ringo in a court proceeding. The commitment papers stated Allen had spent some time about 10 years prior at the Salem asylum, and his partner at the studio said Allen’s health had been poor for several weeks. The episode, the article said, was apparently brought on by overwork and nervous strain.

Did the sudden withdrawal of the opiates he was being treated with, in addition to his fragile mental state, trigger the episode? We know now that withdrawal from narcotics can cause symptoms ranging from hallucinations to violence. Perhaps that was not as well understood in 1913.

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