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Tanner Barton

Healthy teen dies mysteriously at a friend’s house; mom of Tanner Barton vows to fight for answers no matter how long it takes

In 2012, 19-year-old Indiana teen, Tanner Barton, was a healthy, sturdy college football player on the Dean’s List at Marian University, when he suddenly collapsed and died. How does a young man with no pre-existing medical conditions simply die without cause? It’s a question that Tanner’s mom vows to find answers to, and she won’t stop fighting until she knows what truly happened to her beloved, jovial son.

On April 22, 2012, Tanner, on break from college, went to the home in the in the western part of  Kokomo, where a friend, Marcus Salazaer, lived with his mother, Carole Lindskoog (now Carole Cooney); stepfather, Jeff Lindskoog; and younger sister, Michala Salazar. Others in the house that evening included Dr. Todd Cooney, DVM, and Jeff Lindskoog’s daughter, Kierstin Lindskoog

Tanner spent the night at the Lindskoog home, and mostly hung out in the basement area, according to the family. Everyone in the home that night claimed there were no drugs at the get-together and that Tanner seemed in great spirits before falling down at around 3 a.m., collapsing for no apparent reason.

Michala, who said she was the only one in the basement at the time, stated that she thought Tanner was simply joking, yet she admitted she stopped to check his pulse. After reportedly feeling a pulse, she walked to the basement couch to sleep, leaving Tanner alone, lying facedown near the bottom edge of the basement stairs.

[Photos: Michele Barton]
“She knew something was wrong with Tanner,” Michele Barton, Tanner’s mother said. “You wouldn’t check somebody’s pulse if you didn’t think something was wrong.”

The following morning at around 8 a.m., the teens found Tanner lying in the same position and immediately told Lindskoog. Rather than phone the police, Lindskoog admitted he took a photo of Tanner and sent the picture to his then-wife Carol.

Lindskoog noted that Tanner was foaming at the mouth and in a “funny position,” and asked his then-wife what he should do. Carol, who claimed she was out getting a sunless tan, asked Lindskoog to call her reported lover-turned-future-husband, Dr. Todd Cooney, a local Kokomo veterinarian. Carol later claimed she deleted the photo sent to her of Tanner because she “couldn’t stand looking at it.”

Although Lindskoog admitted to authorities that he noticed Tanner was unconscious, foaming at the mouth, with vomit close-by, he opted to call Dr. Cooney before calling for medical help. Lindskoog then reportedly compromised a potential crime scene by cleaning up the vomit and repositioning Tanner. Afterwards, he still failed to call for medical help for the teen. Instead, he waited around an hour and had a friend of Tanner’s contact 911.

Lindskoog’s questionable actions led Tanner’s mother, Michele Barton, to believe that her son ingested ketamine, an animal tranquilizer known on the streets as Special K. Court records indicate that Dr. Cooney had an addiction to the drug, leading to an end to his licensing for years. Did the teens at the home the night in question have access to Special K?

An autopsy report showed that aside from small traces of marijuana and a .06 blood alcohol level (BAC), Tanner had no other drugs in his system. However, the medical examiner performed a standard toxicology panel, which doesn’t include searching for evidence of ketamine in the system..

“No anatomic findings are detected at the time of autopsy to explain a sudden collapse and the demise,” said pathologist Dr. Bruce Hughes. “Toxicology studies are not helpful in pinpointing an exact cause of death.”

[Photos: Michele Barton]
According to Medical News Today, Special K provides “hallucinogenic, tranquilizing and dissociative effects,” making it a commonly-abused and highly-addictive drug. It’s typically taken for recreational use by snorting it, smoking it, taken in pill form, or mixed into drinks. When too much of the drug is taken, an overdose can lead to respiratory failure, the leading cause of death for those who take the drug.

Since each person reacts differently to ketamine, medical experts state that it’s difficult to determine how much is too much. While one person can take the drug and have limited side effects, another person can take only a small amount and develop life-threatening side effects.

Michele said she asked the medical examiner on numerous different occasions to carry out testing for ketamine, but as of today, the request have been denied, according to Michele.

Once authorities arrived to the Lindskoog home, it was far too late to save Tanner. The teen passed away under “highly suspicious” circumstances, according to the Howard County Sheriff’s Department. Yet, the case still remains unsolved, and reportedly, the last person to see Tanner alive before he went to the Lindskoog home, Mica Hoover, was never questioned.

When detectives interviewed Marcus Salazar, he claimed he went to bed early that night while his sister and Tanner went to pick up donuts at a local shop. Yet, witnesses said that they saw Marcus with Tanner and Michala at the donut shop that night, and that Marcus was clearly inebriated. Marcus told authorities he had only drank one beer before going to sleep.

Dr. Cooney, who wasn’t considered a suspect, immediately lawyered up and has since refused any interaction with Michele. Further, the people in the home that night refused to attend Tanner’s vigils, have no photos of their so-called friend on any of their social media accounts, and moved on with their lives. Although not illegal, the friends’ actions are questionable by most people’s standards who follow the case.

“’Highly Suspicious’ death has yet to be fully or properly investigated by the Howard County Sheriffs Department, coroners office and medical examiner-why?” Michele told CrimeOnline. “Thirty-two pages of questions turned over to the Howard County Prosecutor, Mark McCann, almost 3 years ago- still no reply back – why?”

These are questions a grieving mom desperately seeks answers for. Healthy teens don’t simply keel over and die, yet Tanner did. Did he take Special K? Was his drink spiked? The answers are still unclear, but Michele vows to continue fighting until she gets answers for her son.

The investigation into Tanner’s death is still ongoing. Anyone with any information is urged to contact Greg Hargrove Captain, Chief Investigator at 765.456.2020 ext. 236.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people have joined the  Facebook group, Justice for Tanner, to discuss the case and piece together information while sharing theories.

[Feature Photo: Michele Barton]