AUGUSTA — Kevin Raymond Curtis of Augusta held up an evidence bag Tuesday containing two small, clear plastic bags of a white sandy material.
Police had suspected the grainy substance was heroin.
It was actually his father.
The 48 grams of suspected heroin seized after a car crash in Manchester Saturday morning proved instead to be human remains — specifically, the cremated remains of Robert Clinton Curtis Sr., who died five years ago in Brookville, Florida.
“This was the first time my father was ever in lockup right here, and it took me forever to get him out of it,” Curtis said.
In fact, it took about 48 hours to have the cremains returned from the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office after a field test showed the substance was negative for heroin.
Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason confirmed the test results Tuesday, saying the substance “were human remains, a rather unusual manner in which to keep the remains of a loved one, for sure.”
The elder Curtis would likely have been pleased with the result; after all, he had worked as an auxiliary officer for the Hallowell Police Department in the late 1950s, and then worked in local factories, his son said in an interview Tuesday.
On Saturday, Kevin Curtis had lent his 2006 Chevrolet Impala to a friend, Jess Legendre, 31, of Livermore Falls, to go to the grocery store. Curtis said he was unaware the Legrendre’s license had been suspended. Police said Legendre’s license had been revoked as a habitual offender.
While Legendre was traveling along Prescott Road in Manchester, the vehicle went off the road, struck and broke a utility pole and ended up in a ditch.
Initially, investigators thought he was under the influence of heroin, and emergency responders used the opioid-overdose reversal drug Narcan on him to revive him after he appeared to pass out while rummaging through the glove box for paperwork. Deputies found the small bags of powder and suspected they contained heroin. A second dose of Narcan was administered later at MaineGeneral Medical Center, where Legendre was taken for treatment.
Kevin Curtis had kept father’s cremains in the glove box while he awaited arrival of an urn he had ordered. “I didn’t want them if they were in the house, the kids ripping them open and having them everywhere,” Curtis said.
Curtis, 57, has four children. “The kids were really mad when they found out that (the police) took grandpa, but I tried to make a joke of it. I said, ‘This is the first time he’s ever been in lockup and we’ll just get him out.”
He also said some of his dad’s remains had dumped out during the crash and the ashes had spilled on Legendre’s pants.
Curtis said his sister, who is from Winthrop, is driving around with more of their father’s cremains in her truck because she is in the process of moving.
And an unrelated visitor to Kevin Curtis’s home Tuesday morning said she has the cremains of her grandmother in her vehicle, although they are in the original packaging she received from the funeral home. The woman said she was waiting for relatives to agree before the remains could be interred.
On Monday, Legendre was charged with operating after habitual offender revocation and falsifying physical evidence.
He was not charged with any drug-related offense and there’s no evidence he was under the influence of drugs at the time, even though he seemingly responded to the opioid-overdose reversal drug Narcan administered by emergency responders.
“At the time we didn’t have the correct testing equipment to test it, it has since come back negative and that property has been returned to the owner,” said Lt. Chris Read of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.
Legendre had called Curtis and his girlfriend, Jennifer Nisby, immediately after the crash to tell them what happened, Nisby said on Tuesday. She too is a long-time friend of Kevin Curtis.
Both Curtis and Nisby said Legendre was tired after finishing a 20-hour shift. Authorities said that rescue personnel found a small chunk of a brown substance in Legendre’s mouth, believed at the time to be heroin, but Nisby has an explanation for that, too.
“The only thing that was in his mouth was something that came from the airbag and he was gagging on that,” Nisby said.
“The air bag hit him right straight in the face,” Curtis said. “He wasn’t breathing right and said his eyes were burning.”
They said they suspect that’s why the Narcan was administered.
Narcan, also referred to as naloxone, is “a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose,” is safe, and affects only those with opioids in their system, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Legrendre remained in the Kennebec County jail in Augusta early Tuesday afternoon but was expected to be released later on bail, which had been set Monday at $1,000 in cash or, alternatively, $250 cash with a Maine Pretrial Services supervision contract.
Betty Adams — 621-5631