Thanks, Garth. I'll take a look for that.
In the meantime, here's the story I wrote last about Horton's death, based on autopsy documents. I've left in the error about the model year of the car.
After 31 years, rumours about Tim Horton's tragic death are laid to rest: Autopsy records reveal whether hockey star had too much to drink
The Ottawa Citizen
On the death certificate bearing the name Miles Gilbert "Tim" Horton, the accident that ended the life of the Canadian icon is reduced to one handwritten line: "lost control of car at high speed."
The former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman and doughnut shop entrepreneur, it appeared, had died the way he had lived -- aggressively, fearlessly, even recklessly.
Newspaper reports published after the Feb. 21, 1974, accident all pointed to the speed of Mr. Horton's sports car -- more than 160 kilometres per hour, according to police. To those who had known Mr. Horton, or ever seen him chase a puck into the corner, it seemed a tragic, yet fitting, demise.
But in the 31 years since Mr. Horton's death, the root cause of the single-car crash remained the subject of rumour, speculation and conflicting stories. At issue was one central question: Was Tim Horton driving drunk?
The coroner in St. Catharines told reporters at the time that that there were no contributing factors, and that no inquest was required. The newspapers also cited an unnamed nurse in the coroner's office who said the autopsy had showed no signs of alcohol.
But that fact seemed to conflict with anecdotal reports of Mr. Horton's last hours. Some speculated that authorities didn't perform a port-mortem blood test for fear of tarnishing the hockey hero's legacy.
Others have focused on the painkillers he reportedly took for a jaw injury, wondering if the drugs contributed to the accident, but went undetected in the autopsy.
But with no other vehicles involved and no need to lay charges, neither the police nor the coroner's office ever spoke publicly about whether drugs or alcohol factored in his death.
Now, autopsy records and accident reports obtained by the Citizen detail the level of alcohol and drugs in Mr. Horton's blood and provide new insight into his condition at the time of the crash.
On the night before the accident, Mr. Horton was playing for the Buffalo Sabres against his old team at Maple Leaf Gardens. Although the Sabres usually travelled together to Toronto by bus, the veteran defenceman drove up in his white 1974 Ford DeTomaso Pantera, the Italian-made sports car he had extracted from the Sabres as a signing bonus.
The day before the game, Mr. Horton had taken a puck in the jaw during a practice in Buffalo. His face was swollen and bruised, but he still wanted to play. With his family and many friends in the crowd at the Gardens, he skated for two periods before leaving the game shortly into the third period. The Leafs won, 4-2. Mr. Horton was selected as the third star.
After the game, Mr. Horton met up with his business partner, Ron Joyce, at the Tim Donut company office in Oakville.
"Tim was sitting in our office, his coat on, an ice pack wrapped around his jaw, his driver's gloves on," Mr. Joyce recalled in Open Ice: The Tim Horton Story, a 1994 biography by Douglas Hunter. "He was sitting in the dark with his feet up on the table, with a vodka and soda in his hand."
But Mr. Joyce later claimed that his friend didn't consume enough to get drunk, according to the book.
Around 3 a.m., Mr. Horton called his wife, Lori, and his brother, Gerry.
"Gerry recognized Tim had been drinking, and he tried to convince him to stay where he was," Mrs. Horton recalled in her 1997 book, In Loving Memory.
Mr. Horton and Mr. Joyce talked until about 4 a.m., then left. There are conflicting accounts about whether Mr. Horton planned to drive to Mr. Joyce's home in Burlington to spend the night, or all the way back to Buffalo.
According to Open Ice, Mr. Joyce reportedly saw Mr. Horton take a handful of painkillers before he drove off in the Pantera, reaching a speed he estimated at about 175 kilometres an hour (110 miles per hour) on the Queen Elizabeth Way.
Mr. Joyce wasn't the only one to see the Pantera zoom off. A motorist near Burlington alerted police to a sports car driving dangerously fast.
When Mr. Horton roared into St. Catharines, around 4:30 a.m., Ontario Provincial Police Const. Mike Gula was waiting for him. He gave pursuit in his cruiser.
"I was doing over 100, but I lost sight," Const. Gula later told the media. "I never got close. A few minutes later, I came on the accident scene."
The Pantera "rolled over in median, and numerous times, ending up on its roof, in westbound lane, facing in a northerly direction," Const. Gula wrote in the accident report obtained by the Citizen. "Driver thrown from vehicle."
Mr. Horton's body was found on the grass of the median. The car was a further 37 metres down the highway, according to a diagram Const. Gula included in his report.
Mr. Horton was declared dead on arrival at St. Catharines General Hospital.
The autopsy began at 10:30 a.m. that morning. The post-mortem report is signed by pathologist Dr. Donald M. Mason, but it is unclear who actually performed the exam. Dr. Mason, now retired, says he remembers the case, but can't recall which of the other doctors at the hospital worked on it.
The first page of the post mortem report notes that the body on the exam table was that of "the famous hockey player on the team of (sic) Buffalo Sabres."
The external exam details some statistics that could have been found on Mr. Horton's hockey card: length: 5'9"; weight: 210 lbs; and "apparent age," 44.
Mr. Horton was wearing a brown checked topcoat, a yellow sports coat, a yellow shirt, brown boots and brown pants, the report notes.
On the second page, the report moves on to a grim catalogue of the injuries sustained when Mr. Horton was flung out of the car: "Extensive crush fractures of multiple bones at the vault of the skull and base of skull;" "fracture dislocation (neck);" "multiple fractures left ribs;" "internal bleeding chest," and "bleeding on surface of brain and meninges (following head injury)."
Though the report notes massive head injuries, the pathologist could feel no sign of a jaw fracture. Apparently, the puck that hit Mr. Horton and caused him such pain hadn't broken the bone.
But there was no doubt in the report what killed the hockey star -- a broken neck and a crushed skull.
Other possible factors in the accident were becoming apparent, too. The OPP report shows that police had found a 40-ounce bottle of Smirnoff Vodka, with its top broken off, about 60 metres west of the car. Somewhere at the scene, police had also found six tablets, two orange and four green. Another green pill was found in Mr. Horton's pocket.
Urine and blood samples, along with the pills, were sent to a lab in Toronto for testing. The results would come back a week later.
While the pathologist worked on the body, investigators were combing over the scene of the accident. Extra police cruisers were brought in to keep passing motorists from stopping to gawk or hunt for souvenirs.
The OPP report lists items found at the crash scene: Mr. Horton's six eight-track stereo cassettes, a set of keys, a package of Old Port Cigars, and a black suitcase with "Tim Horton" marked on the leather.
Police found more personal items, too, including a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, a wallet and a stack of credit cards, $205 in cash, a gold ring, a Waltham jewel watch and two cheques from the Buffalo Sabres totalling $1,792.
The Pantera itself was a wreck, its front hood crushed, tie rods snapped and tires deflated. Once valued at a princely $17,000, the vehicle was estimated to be worth about $500, according to the police report. The car was taken to a lot in St. Catharines, then transferred to a forensic lab in Toronto.
The federal Transportation Department would later launch an investigation to find out why the right front door opened during the crash, allowing for "ejection of the driver." But there is no indication that the department ever issued a report.
The province concluded there were no defects in the vehicle. Mr. Horton, it was noted, was not wearing a seatbelt.
Tests on the pills and Mr. Horton's body fluids were performed at Ontario's Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto. The lab determined that the five green pills were Dexamyl, a prescription drug that combined an amphetamine with the barbiturate amobarbital. The two orange tablets were identified as Dexedrine, also an amphetamine.
Although there was no sign of the amphetamines in Mr. Horton's blood, the toxicology report showed traces of amobarbital, indicating that he had likely taken the Dexamyl some time before the accident. The 0.3 milligram per cent level -- 0.3 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood -- was within "usual therapeutic levels" for amobarbital the report says.
Because barbiturates stay in the blood longer when mixed with alcohol, traces of amobarbital would show up in a person who was drinking even after the amphetamine had disappeared.
It is unclear why Mr. Horton was taking Dexamyl. The drug was commonly prescribed in the 1970s for alertness and weight loss. It was marketed to busy housewives and even enjoyed a brief vogue with celebrities of the day before its addictive qualities were fully known. Author Ayn Rand and artist Andy Warhol were reportedly regular users of the pills, called "purple hearts" on the street.
The drug also figured in a 1977 lawsuit against the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Rough Riders by a player who claimed he was fed Dexamyl and other stimulants by team doctors to improve his performance. The case was settled out of court.
But if Mr. Horton was suffering pain from his injured jaw, the speed seems an odd choice of painkiller. More likely, perhaps, was that the 44-year-old needed a boost to stay competitive in a National Hockey League dominated by younger and faster skaters.
There is no indication in any of the laboratory reports that Mr. Horton was taking painkillers. It is unclear from autopsy records if the samples were negative, or if the tests were simply not performed.
But the blood and urine analysis performed by the Toronto lab indicates that, as long rumoured, Mr. Horton was drinking that night -- and more than his partner Mr. Joyce believed. The blood test measured 170 milligrams per cent alcohol -- or 0.17 per cent as it is expressed today, twice the legal limit of .08 per cent.
(Canada adopted the current limit of 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood in 1969.)
At that level, "he would be pretty drunk," said Dr. Jack Uetrecht, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Toronto.
"I'm guessing it would take at least eight drinks over an hour" for a man of that weight to reach that level, Dr. Uetrecht said. "He probably had more than that over a longer time."
If there is any irony in the too-soon end of Mr. Horton's life on a dark highway, it is that the name of an impaired driver now adorns the hundreds of doughnut shops where so many late-night drivers come for coffee to help stay awake.
But that fact won't likely matter much for those seeking double-doubles and, perhaps, a reminder of the greatest defenceman to ever wear a Maple Leafs jersey.
About This Story
The Citizen got the records used in this story from the Ontario government through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents were released after a request to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Although autopsies are considered personal information and cannot be released under Ontario law, the privacy exemption expires 30 years after the subject's death.
The autopsy and accident report became public on Feb. 21, 2004. Several pages of the documents were exempted from release. These appear to be correspondence between ministry officials and private citizens still living, most likely Mr. Horton's family.
Thanks for posting the story Glen. I've heard and discussed the rumours for years, but never had the facts.
A sad story. It leaves me empty. I don't know what to think...
|Old enough to know better and still young enough not to care.|
My '71 Pantera
Nicely written, Glen. I seem to have copied your number down wrong, so if you want to give me a call back, please do.
I find it strange that after several thousand years that the Greek concept of tradgedy is so accurate.
We are all tradgedies. We are all the leading characters in our own stories and we all die at the end.
Few of us understand the meaning of success and most underestimate the influences that our own lives have on others.
Not being of Canadian ancestory I never really realize the effect that hockey has on the Canadian people.
Being a 44 year old in a sport in which a 25 year old has to maintain maximum effort to surrvive created an icon to all of us who hold out some sort of hope for personal vindication while we are alive.
We rarely consider what the autopsy report will reveal. I suppose we don't care.
I was going to make a comeback as a pitcher. I had my nickname all picked out. Was going to call myself "Peckerwood".
My Pantea is painted red and black. I wonder if that had anything to do with the NJ Devils and Martan Broduer?
I suppose that I am entirely to empathetic in situations like this. I suppose that it shows a signifigant personalaty flaw of my own.
I'm sorry for all of my Canadian friends that still are haunted by this tradgedy some thirty years later.
I'm sorry that it happened to a sport icon and I'm sorry that a Pantera was involved in such a negative sociological human event.
Perhaps someone will be able to show how something or someone posatively triumphed in such a sad event.
Personally I think it is best to let the dead rest in peace but as you can see, what do I know?
Hey Glen,I know of two places where the Vin# is located,drivers side dash and drivers side engine carpment in back.And yes,all panteras had vin# starting with 1000 as the first one,I think as what i've been told.
Doug,I think you have become a philospher.
Glen; A few things you may want to check out.
Tim's 2nd last signing bonus was a Porche,which,he piled up a bunch of speeding tickets. On his last signing bonus(72),Imlach told him no more sports cars. He had Imlach send a P.O. to Al Soko at Gateway Licoln Mercury in Thornhil for a nice sedate family car.Imlach didn't know Gateway was the Pantera dealer.
Check around Vin THPRNM02605 There was snow on the road,not,rain..If you do a little deeper research you might find Percodans were prescribed for his jaw injury. Also check to see if he didn't go home for a short while,before heading back to Buffalo.. If you want to get into the car a little more, perhaps you can speak to John Rossiter(Rossiter Racing Engines-Superchargers?)
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