Forest Hill pastor's killer was high on PCP, medical examiner reports

Posted Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- The man who fatally beat a Forest Hill minister with an electric guitar in October and who stopped breathing after he was put into a patrol car died of PCP ingestion, the Tarrant County medical examiner ruled Tuesday.

Derrick Birdow's "sudden death [was] associated with phencyclidine ingestion," and the manner of death was accidental, Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani ruled.

"We suspected very early on, based on his behavior, that we might be looking at PCP, just based on prior experience and our knowledge of that drug," Forest Hill police Chief Dan Dennis said Tuesday. "I wasn't at all surprised to find that he had it in his system."

Birdow crashed his Mercury Grand Marquis into the Greater Sweethome Missionary Baptist Church on Oct. 29, and then attacked the Rev. Danny Kirk Sr., 53, and church janitor John Whitaker. A church secretary hid in a closet and called 911.

When officers arrived, they found Whitaker outside with a head wound and carrying a wooden board. He said his assailant had gone "crazy" and was hitting him, and that they needed to go inside the church and help Kirk.

Birdow, his hand covered with blood, suddenly opened a church door. Ordered at gunpoint to stop, Birdow ran back inside with officers in pursuit. They found him hitting Kirk with an electric guitar. The wounded pastor was lying on the floor.

"I ordered [Derrick] Birdow to drop the guitar" and lie on the floor, officer Donnie Chesnut wrote in a police report. "Birdow did not comply but rather looked at me as he raised the guitar for another strike."

Officer D. Rudd then shot Birdow with his Taser, and Birdow fell to the floor. He would not turn over and put his hands behind his back, so officers shocked him two or three more times, they reported.

Kirk was pronounced dead at the scene.

Officers carried Birdow to a patrol car and put him in the back seat. A short time later, they found him unresponsive. CPR was started, but he was later pronounced dead at John Peter Smith Hospital.

Peerwani did not find that the Taser shocks contributed to Birdow's death, said Linda Anderson, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office.

Dennis said the autopsy found only one puncture wound from the Taser in Birdow's body, indicating that only one of the Taser's two prongs made contact.

PCP is an illegal drug abused for hallucinogenic effect. It often causes severe mood disorders, paranoia and hostility, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Its effects on the body "can be accompanied by a sense of strength and invulnerability," according to a DEA online fact sheet.

With the medical examiner's ruling, the criminal investigation into Birdow's death is now closed, Dennis said.

"I don't know at this point if it will even go to a grand jury," Dennis said. "We just need an answer from the district attorney's office as to whether they want to present it just to put the matter to bed."

The results of an administrative investigation conducted by the Tarrant County sheriff's department are pending, he said.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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