Popular Terra Linda teacher committed suicide - Marinscope Community Newspapers : News

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Popular Terra Linda teacher committed suicide

Autopsy reveals Ross woman died of acute alcohol, drug poisoning

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Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 1:38 pm, Wed Oct 10, 2012.

The Terra Linda High School English teacher who went missing for 10 days last month after leaving a cryptic message on her blackboard died of acute alcohol poisoning and a prescription drug overdose, a Marin County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Division representative said last Friday.

Debra Schmitt, 53, had a blood alcohol level of 0.67 percent, about eight times the legal limit and nearly five times the limit of Oxycodone in her system when she was found lying dead Jan. 29 along a creek behind her Ross home.

“There is nothing else in our investigation to support anything other than suicide,” said Sgt. Keith Boyd, assistant chief deputy coroner for the sheriff’s office.

“We’re confident she purchased the alcohol and it was likely a prescription medication she had access to. There is nothing to indicate it’s a homicide. We wanted to make sure we took all the time needed to be thorough.”

Boyd said the level of Oxycodone in Schmitt’s body was 0.92 milligrams per liter. Oxycodone is a pain medication. Boyd said Oxycodone levels beyond 0.2 milligrams per liter is considered toxic.

Boyd said the Jan. 31 autopsy and the investigation into Schmitt’s death revealed no signs of trauma. The body had likely been at the site for a considerable amount of time, Boyd said.

Boyd referred all other inquiries about Schmitt’s death to the Ross Police Department.

Schmitt went missing Jan. 19 when she left a “Thank you everyone” message written on a chalkboard in her Terra Linda High classroom. Her school keys were found nearby.

Her vehicle, purse and other pieces of identification were discovered in her Ross home. The popular teacher’s body was discovered the morning of Jan. 29, when search-and-rescue personnel decided to backtrack over areas that had been previously searched.

Schmitt was married but her husband had recently filed for divorce, Ross police said. She also had been dealing with the deaths of relatives in New Jersey for the past several months.

Marin County Search and Rescue personnel and members of the Tamalpais Fire Crew initially searched near Phoenix Lake for the missing teacher. Four canine units and a California Highway Patrol helicopter helped in the search.

The next day, searchers switched their attention to parts of San Francisco and Golden Gate Park specifically since witnesses confirmed for police that Schmitt had talked about living the homeless experience.

Schmitt was born in Staten Island, N.Y., and taught at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and at Penn State University before coming to Marin County.

In the aftermath of her death, Terra Linda school officials made counselors available to students and staff. Counseling sessions took place in the school’s library.

The Terra Linda school community was already reeling from the suicide of two students last October. A 14-year-old Terra Linda High student killed herself and a 13-year-old Miller Creek school boy was found hanging in a tree a few blocks from school.

On Feb. 12, hundreds of friends, students and members of the school district community turned out for a memorial service for Schmitt at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ross.

Contact Joe Wolfcale at jwolfcale@marinscope.com.

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