A Kansas man who was fatally shot by a Forest Service law enforcement officer in Oak Creek Canyon in early January tested negative for a range of illegal and prescription drugs and had a blood alcohol level within the legal limit.
The findings from the Yavapai County Medical Examiner’s Office raise more questions than answers about the moments before 51-year-old Tyler Miller was shot twice in the abdomen on the side of Highway 89A.
Before the Forest Service officer fired, Miller was walking down the middle of the highway naked and bloody after crashing his truck by the side of the road, according to law enforcement reports of the incident. A detective wrote that based on the location of his clothing along the road, Miller likely took off his clothes after emerging through the broken front windshield of his wrecked vehicle. A witness also observed that Miller had been throwing rocks at other cars traveling on 89A after he crashed his truck.
Forest Service officer Krista Kuhns was the first to arrive on scene. The FBI has taken over the case and declined to release any information on the incident, including Kuhns' account or statements.
But according to an incident report released by the Coconino County Sheriff's Office, a sheriff’s deputy who heard Kuhns over the radio later said her voice was shaky and she was speaking loudly, “consistent with an intense situation” as she approached Miller.
“Shortly after, I heard across the radio, 'Shots fired,'" Deputy Kyle Walter wrote in his incident report.
The toxicology report released by the medical examiner’s office found that Miller tested positive only for nicotine, analgesics — a category of pain-relieving drugs that includes Tylenol, Advil and aspirin — and Naloxone, the drug used to reverse opioid drug overdoses. However, he tested negative for opiates, which are naturally occurring, and oxycodone, a synthetic opiate.
Miller’s blood alcohol content was 0.05 percent — below the legal limit of 0.08 percent for driving.
The report also noted that while Miller tested positive for naloxone, it was an unconfirmed result that hasn’t been verified by a quantitative analysis.
Regardless, naloxone wouldn’t have caused Miller to act the way law enforcement officers reported that he did, said Dr. George Behonick, director and chief toxicologist at Axis Forensic Toxicology, the company that did the testing.
Nor would painkillers, he said.
If Miller’s behavior was drug-related, Behonick said he thought it would have to be driven by something that is a stimulant or has stimulant-like effects.
Richard Neff, chief medical officer at Flagstaff Medical Center, didn’t have a definite explanation for why Miller would have tested positive for naloxone but negative for any type of opioid.
"It’s really a confusing picture,” Neff said. “I’m not quite sure if you had a functioning liver and kidneys why you would have naloxone (in your system) and not an opiate or something you would have taken naloxone for.”
Naloxone usually stays in someone’s system for about eight hours and opiates move through a little bit faster than that, he said.
Evidence shows Kuhns used a Taser on Miller in addition to shooting him twice. The medical examiner found two Taser prongs in Miller’s abdominal area and determined that one of the shots fired was from an intermediate range and the other was from a distant range.
Miller had been traveling from his home in Kansas to Sedona Wellness Center Soul Adventures, according to family members.
After the incident, Miller's son told authorities that his father was going through a marital separation and had been depressed and was acting strangely, according to a detective’s report. The son was worried Miller was suicidal.
The son also said Miller sent texts about getting God and getting religious, which were atypical for him. He said he believed Miller had not slept in a long time, according to the detective’s report.
Miller owned TNT Bonding in Hutchinson, Kansas, and is survived by his wife of 28 years and their four sons, according to a family attorney’s statement earlier this year.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the lead investigator on the case.