An Army medic who police say shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself in April was under the influence of a powerful drug known as "bath salts."

Share story

An Army medic who police say shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself in April was under the influence of a powerful drug known as “bath salts.”

On Monday, the Thurston County Coroner’s Office said toxicology tests done on David Stewart, 38, and Kristy Sampels, 38, revealed they both had the bath-salt chemical, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) in their bodies when they died. While the results help explain the behavior of Stewart, according to the coroner, it does not shed light on what happened to the couple’s 5-year-old son, who was found suffocated in the couple’s Spanaway home.

Bath salts, which in April was being sold legally to state residents in tobacco shops and over the Internet, have a chemical composition that’s similar to methamphetamine, according to the Washington Poison Center.

The state Board of Pharmacy issued an emergency 120-day ban on the drugs 10 days after the deaths of Stewart and Sampels and the process for a permanent prohibition of the drugs and their chemical components is under way, according Donn Moyer, a spokesman for the state Department of Health.

Stewart, a twice-deployed combat medic stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, shot his wife and then himself on April 5 outside Tumwater in front of a State Patrol trooper who had pulled him over for speeding on Interstate 5. Their son, Jordan Stewart, was later found dead in the family’s Spanaway home. The boy, who died of asphyxiation April 4, had bruising on his body and a bag over his head, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The additional toxicology test for MDPV was ordered after Thurston County death investigators found a small jar of “Lady Bubbles” brand bath salts in Stewart’s pocket and noticed granules of the substance in his car, according to Coroner Gary Warnock.

According to Jim Williams, the Washington Poison Center’s executive director, bath-salt drugs first came to the attention of law enforcement authorities and medical personnel last year in Louisiana, where the drugs are now banned.

Since then, the drugs, which are believed to be manufactured in Asia, have made their way across the country, where they have been linked to numerous incidents of violence, Williams said in April.

Williams said the drug, which is typically snorted, is believed to be similar to, but more addictive than, methamphetamine.

Bath salts are not to be confused with Epsom salts or soaking salts that are sold in the bath aisles of pharmacies or beauty-supply shops, Williams said.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com.

Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.