Former UC Berkeley student, Cloyne resident dies 7 years after drug overdose

Former UC Berkeley student John Gibson, pictured on the right, died Sunday at the age of 28 after suffering irreversible brain damage from a near-fatal drug overdose in 2010.
Madelyn Bennett/Courtesy
Former UC Berkeley student John Gibson, pictured on the right, died Sunday at the age of 28 after suffering irreversible brain damage from a near-fatal drug overdose in 2010.

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John Gibson, a former UC Berkeley student and Cloyne Court co-op resident, sustained irreversible brain damage from a near-fatal drug overdose in 2010. After seven years and $3 million of medical bills, Gibson died Sunday in hospice care at the age of 28.

According to Gibson’s mother Madelyn Bennett, the coroner’s report showed that Gibson’s overdose while he was living in Cloyne was the primary cause of his death.

“He was in a coma for 6 weeks (after he overdosed),” Bennett said. “They put a trach in his throat, which they didn’t take out … so he never spoke again. We got his weight back up, but basically he was wheelchair bound.”

Because of the overdose, Gibson suffered an anoxic brain injury, which required over $500,000 worth of treatment each year. Bennett said she and her husband turned their living room into a “hospital room,” hired around-the-clock nurses at $28 per hour, paid for physical and speech therapy and even started a business to qualify for medical insurance.

“Obamacare was not yet the law of the land. My husband and I formed a corporation and put him on as a no-show employee so that he could have employee’s insurance,” she said. “When I turned 59, I took my pension, all of it, and spent that. When my husband turned 59, he took his IRA and spent all of that.”

In 2012, Bennett sued the Berkeley Student Cooperative, or BSC, and the UC Board of Regents for not adequately training and supervising health workers, who provide medical services for students living on campus.

Bennett said it took more than four hours for someone to call 911 after Gibson had entered cardiac arrest. Charles Kelly, who represented Bennett in the lawsuit, alleged that only three of the four health workers in Cloyne at the time knew CPR.

“His roommates and several other people saw that he had a heart attack and did nothing about it,” Bennett alleged. “They let him die.”

The lawsuit was settled two years later for $750,000. That same year, Cloyne Court became a substance-free house in the BSC, and the members at the time were not allowed to return the next semester.

“We have improved our training for all managers in the BSC since that time, and we are currently recognized as one of the safest organized housing providers on campus,” said BSC President Zach Gamlieli in an email. “We’ve received accolades from the Dwight-Hillside Happy Neighbors Group, [email protected], (and) representatives from the Chancellor’s office.”

The Responsible Bystander Policy, which went into effect last year, states that underage students will not be disciplined for reporting “alcohol or controlled substance emergencies.” According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the campus recognizes students’ reluctance to report medical emergencies for fear of potential consequences.

“The responsible bystander policy was not prompted by the Gibson incident,” Gilmore said in an email. “The policy was requested by students in 2014 (including ASUC senators) as a way of encouraging students who themselves might be in violation of the Code of Student Conduct (principally by drinking) to report medical emergencies involving their fellow students.”

According to Kim Benson, BSC executive director, the co-ops adopted a similar Good Samaritan Policy in 2011 — a year after Gibson’s overdose.

Kelly said the Good Samaritan Policy was actually implemented earlier than 2011 for Cloyne, but that the BSC did not provide sufficient education to residents about it.

“Had they called 911, nothing would have happened,” Bennett alleged. “He would have been fine in a week.”

Contact Anjali Shrivastava at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.

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  • jim hoch

    Interesting that this version of the story eliminates discussion of the hate mail the mother received from the UCB community. The same article published elsewhere has the semi-literate hate mail from UCB as a central theme.

  • Michele Royalty

    I see no info on the drugs he took, a critical factor. If he had a heart attack and was without oxygen, he needed paramedics immediately. The Co-op cannot be held responsible. Bystanders cannot be responsible. The responsible person is the student. The question is why was he taking drugs, how did he get them, what were the drugs? I was a student at Berkeley too, but back in the day. I understood that drugs and school do not mix. Drugs make you stupid. There is a backstory here that is not revealed. I am a pharmacist. There is a desire among young people to get high, too big. That is the real story here. It was true in the 60s, 70s, 80s, etc and is true today. The difference is the illegal drug trade has become more efficient, making street prices very cheap.

    • jeyhovah

      The “hospital test detected marijuana and cocaine in his blood, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.The co-op officials said Gibson’s activity prior to the trauma is relatively unknown, although Buchholz said she believed he and his roommate were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day throughout the previous night and consumed a ‘cocktail of various drugs.'”

  • D.Plorable

    It would have been useful to note what the drug was. Was that determined?

  • lspanker

    Hmm, maybe there’s a reason they call it “dope”?

  • rychastings

    suing other people because your kid made poor decisions really is indicative of the blame someone else culture

  • Nunya Beeswax

    This is tremendously sad, and I am sorry for his family. But I wish his mother would stop looking for someone else to blame. Her son did something extremely dangerous and risky, and there was a consequence. It is really no-one else’s fault.

    • lspanker

      As an elementary-school kid whose father worked in San Francisco during the last 1960’s and early 1970’s, I made enough trips into the city to see the hippie drug culture firsthand. It was a positive experience for me, as it convinced me at a young age that hard drugs were a very bad idea. Even as a roadie for a rock band in the early 1980’s in LA, the coke-snorting capital of the world at that time, I had no temptation whatsoever to touch any of it…

      • DarkStarCrashes

        Some drugs are a good idea to take, others are not.

        Opiates are the worst. Stimulants are dangerous but can enhance creativity and productivity in both manic and stable-focus sorts of ways.

        Psychedelics are the greatest chemicals that a human being could possibly ingest. I feel very sorry for those who fear them.

        • Michele Royalty

          It is very hard to determine street drugs that are safe, because the contents are unknown to the user. The user cannot know the strength, or combination. The DEA has confiscated drugs and found fentanyl is many street drugs, a dangerous opioids when used by itself or mixed with others in a cocktail. Methamphetamine cause erratic and uncontrolled behavior. Psychedelics can’t cause extreme psychosis for some and are euphoric for others. Advocates and users of street drugs are playing with unknown origin, unknown content, and often lethal drugs.
          As a licensed Pharmacist, I cannot emphasize enough the risk this is to users.

  • TNT

    Just say no.