Attorney General Andy Beshear, right, talks to director of office initiatives Jonathan Smith, far left, and investigator Josh Keats about the assistance they provided Sept. 7, 2017, to an overdosed man in downtown Lexington traffic. | Courtesy Lexington Herald-Leader

By Jack Brammer | Lexington Herald-Leader

As Kentucky’s chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Andy Beshear spends a good deal of time warning people about the dangers of heroin and pain pills, but he hadn’t seen an overdose in person until Sept. 7.

That afternoon, Beshear helped pull a man dying of a drug overdose out of a car on North Broadway in downtown Lexington.

“It showed to me how extensive this drug epidemic is,” Beshear said in an interview with The Herald-Leader.

He and two of his assistants — office initiatives director Jonathan Smith and investigator Josh Keats — were traveling in a state vehicle about 3:15 p.m. at the corner of Short Street and North Broadway, a block off Main Street.

Keats was driving. Beshear had been at a meeting with United Mine Workers and at an interview at WLEX-TV about human trafficking and child abuse.

“We thought we were in a traffic jam and we were probably 10 cars back and we saw a woman getting out of a car out in front of us on the left,” Beshear said.

The woman started beating on the window of a stopped car, he said.

“When we realized something different was going on, Josh turned on our lights and pulled up on the sidewalk,” Beshear said. “At that point, we could see that the person in the car was in distress.”

That person, said Beshear, was a heavy man in his late 20s or 30s. Keats, a paramedic, said he realized instantly that the man was unconscious, not breathing and was beginning to turn blue because of lack of oxygen.

The woman, a nurse practitioner, tried to help the man through the window. Another woman, Katie Kerns of Lexington, also stopped in traffic to help.

“I was there when the attorney general and others came to the car,” Kerns said. “The fellow was in bad shape. I recognized the attorney general but thought it strange to see him in this situation. Another woman on the scene asked him if he were a paramedic. He said, ‘No, ma’am, I’m the state’s attorney general.”

Beshear said Keats opened the man’s car door. “I realized that with the size of this guy it was going to be hard to get him out,” Beshear said. “So I ran up and together we each grabbed an arm and were able to pull him out and get him onto the ground.”

The man was starting to turn purple, said Beshear, who ran back to the state car to get Keats’ CPR kit. “I grabbed that and at that point (Keats) and the nurse practitioner started doing CPR on the guy.”

Keats said he tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for about two minutes.

A Lexington police officer, at Keats’ request, brought to the scene a bottle of naloxone, an overdose antidote which Keats administered through the nose.

“You could start seeing the guy respond but he wasn’t breathing after the first one,” said Beshear.

An ambulance pulled up, administered two more cans of naloxone and took the man to the hospital. He survived.

A police report confirmed much of Beshear’s account, including that the driver was given multiple cans of naloxone to revive him and that he later admitted “to taking pain killers/unknown drug” before driving the car. He was charged with driving under the influence.

Police have body camera footage of the incident, which they said showed Beshear at the scene, but declined to give it to The Herald-Leader under an Open Records request because the case is still under investigation.

Beshear said he now plans to instruct all his staff on how to administer naloxone. “Seeing someone… in downtown Lexington at 3 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon shows that this can happen at any time,” he said.

Beshear said he and the two staffers did not leave the scene until the man was sitting up on a stretcher with his eyes open and breathing. They were there for about 15 minutes.

“This is the first time I’ve been on a scene where a person is overdosing,” Beshear said. “Being right there next to someone turning blue to purple to what is next, gray.”

A total of 1,404 people died in Kentucky last year from drug overdoses, according to the state Office of Vital Statistics. That compares to 1,248 deaths in 2015.