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Alcohol and illnesses set the stage for fatal conflict with KC police

Updated: 2013-06-19T05:35:08Z

By CHRISTINE VENDEL

The Kansas City Star

Relatives of a man who died after struggling with Kansas City police officers Monday morning said they think he may have been lost, intoxicated and looking for a ride when he got into a stranger’s car and refused to get out.

Police officers pulled Kevin L. Ellis, 45, out of the car and stunned him once with a stun gun in the brief struggle about 6:20 a.m. Monday in the 5300 block of North Brighton Avenue. He became unresponsive after police handcuffed him, and he later died at a hospital. The cause of death is not known. Police are awaiting autopsy results.

“He was not ordinarily a violent person,” said his mother, Veneta Ellis.

Veneta Ellis doesn’t know what could have killed her son. He may have suffered a seizure, she said. He had several prior seizures from alcohol withdrawal. He also had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and liver problems and often didn’t take his medication, she said.

Kevin Ellis had fought mental illness and alcoholism since he was a teenager, relatives said. He didn’t have a vehicle or a driver’s license, and they believe he was trying to walk to his mother’s house, which is about one mile away from the address on North Brighton, when he got confused and got into the car.

He had also gotten lost before in his mother’s neighborhood and was caught by a neighbor getting into people’s mailboxes.

“Nobody likes to see two sides of a story, but we know him,” said his aunt Jan Normandin. “I don’t think he was himself.”

In the days before his death, Kevin Ellis had moved out of a halfway house. He tried to kill himself Friday night by cutting his arm, his mother said, and he needed 34 stitches to close the wound. He had bouts of depression over decades and had tried to kill himself before, she said.

When Kevin Ellis was taking medication for his bipolar diagnosis and avoiding alcohol, he was “a wonderful person,” his mother said. His aunt said he was generous and helped her mow her grass and repair her home. He was also a big fan of country star George Jones and his song “Choices.”

“I was tempted, by an early age I found I liked drinkin’,” the lyrics say. “Oh, and I never turned it down. There were loved ones, but I turned them all away. Now I’m living and dying with the choices I’ve made.”

Kevin Ellis never married and never had children. He worked odd jobs but in recent years relied on disability payments. He had stayed in mental hospitals several times for short stints, but his mother thinks he should have been offered longer-term care.

“For years and years we have tried to get him help,” she said. “He’d go into rehab for 30 days, but I could not get him any long-term help. … Everybody thought he was just an alcoholic.”

Relatives last saw Kevin Ellis at 3 p.m. Sunday at Kmart, where he was buying a pair of shorts. Normandin gave him a ride from the store to a friend’s house, but relatives don’t know where he went or what he did after that. He was supposed to meet with his probation officer Monday afternoon.

“He had good family support, but it wasn’t enough,” Veneta Ellis said. “It’s been a rough road for him.”

To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send email to cvendel@kcstar.com.

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