How a superstar student-athlete became addicted to painkillers, killed 2 people in a car crash – and sought a measure of redemption

drunks-accidentPRESCOTT, Arizona – Isaac Browning was a Prescott High School basketball player and a National Honor Society member. He was a baseball player and a 4.0 student. He was an artist and Key Club member.

And now, Isaac Browning, 21, is a convicted felon who, while addicted to oxycodone, was responsible for the deaths of two people in a head-on highway collision.

How this superstar student, who had a Presidential Scholarship to ASU’s Barrett Honors College, found himself in this position is a story of a young man who nearly disappeared into a drug-induced haze but ultimately turned himself around.

On June 7, 2011, Browning, then 18, was driving south on Highway 89 in a pickup truck near Chino Valley. About 4:50 p.m., he crossed the double yellow lines and struck an SUV head-on. The couple in the SUV, Nick and Nona Davirro of Chino Valley, were killed in the crash. Browning was seriously hurt and was flown to Flagstaff Medical Center with broken bones and spinal cord injuries.

The Chino Valley Police did not believe alcohol or drug impairment was behind the crash, then-Commander Mark Garcia told The Daily Courier. They were focused on a theory that Browning was distracted by his cellphone, attorney John Napper said.

While Browning was at the hospital, a CVPD officer requested that the hospital draw Browning’s blood for testing. The officer did not have a warrant signed by a judge, because police hadn’t sought one.

Based on Garcia’s statement to the Courier, and statements given by other officers later, police did not have probable cause for a blood test and could not have obtained a warrant, Napper said.

The results came back reporting the presence of oxycodone and a small amount of marijuana. A grand jury ultimately indicted Browning on two counts of manslaughter, two counts of DUI-drugs, and one count of criminal damage.

17 and addicted to oxycodone

Browning had a bright future ahead in 2010. The 6-foot-5-inch co-captain of the basketball team was riding high academically, and out of school he was doing well, too. His custom-painted canvas shoes, which he sold on a small scale, were a hit. When he graduated from PHS with distinction, he contacted the massive athletic shoemaker Nike Inc. to talk about an internship between high school and college. Nike officials saw his shoes and asked him to come to its headquarters in Oregon to discuss the idea. 

He and his mother, Abbie Roses, made the trip, which would be part graduation celebration, part vacation, and part Nike business.

While at a restaurant, Browning had what can only be described as a freak accident: As he was entering the restroom, another patron was exiting, and the door hit Browning in the head, knocking him to the floor, where he again struck his head and lost consciousness.

“He came back to the table and he was blinking his eyes in a strange way, and he went outside and got sick,” Roses said. She took him to a hospital, where an ER doctor prescribed the 17-year-old narcotic painkillers.

In the wake of the accident, he suffered a change in personality, cognitive impairment, insomnia, loss of balance, extreme migraines, and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Browning was treated at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix and was prescribed Vicodin and Percocet.

He started his first semester at ASU in 2010 and immediately had trouble. He had lingering effects from the TBI and was becoming addicted to the painkillers. He dropped some classes and began living in a dark room. He started using marijuana.

His parents, seeing their son deteriorate, and knowing the former 4.0 student was on the verge of flunking out, made him return home in April 2011. 

Death and redemption

Browning, by now out of prescription painkillers, was finding illicit ways to get hold of them as his addiction craved even more oxycodone.

Then the crash in June turned everything upside-down.

The blood test ordered by police showed he had taken the drugs before the fatal collision.

His symptoms worsened as he felt guilt over the death of the Davirros, and severe depression set in.

In early 2012, before he was indicted on charges relating to the crash, Browning was arrested for taking his parents’ car without their permission. He wanted to drive to Phoenix to fly to New York so he could check himself into rehab. 

But his parents, who didn’t know that, called police.

He was caught in Dewey-Humboldt, arrested, and charged with stealing the car.

That saved him, Roses said: “It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened.”

He accepted a plea deal and Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley gave him probation. Browning went into a Prescott treatment facility, A Sober Way Home, where the staff would address both his addiction and the effects of his TBI.

The family had trouble finding a facility that could deal with his Browning’s TBI, PTSD, and addiction. “We spent a year piecemealing it,” Roses said, “going to practices all over the place” before they found that A Sober Way Home could treat him, “and we live literally three miles away.”

Browning took the treatment seriously and made progress. He’s been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the crash, and attends AA meetings, where he’s been called upon to be the leader.

He’s held a full-time job in construction and hopes to get back to ASU. 

He has even returned to his love of basketball, working with disabled children, teaching them how to play.

When the time came for Ainley to sentence Browning in the case involving the double fatal crash, Napper presented her with about two-dozen letters, some from medical professionals, others from educators and friends, in support of him. Several chronicled his history in rehab and subsequent community service.

One, from Carlos Aguilera, a counselor at A Sober Way Home, said, “It is my opinion that Mr. Browning has made a complete turnaround in his life.” 

Because the Chino Valley Police erred in their warrantless blood draw, Napper argued, Ainley would have to throw out the evidence if the case went to trial, and, he said, “The government’s case will be nearly im-possible to prove without the results.”

Napper said a plea agreement with a sentence of probation would be appropriate, given Browning’s journey from star student through TBI to addiction, depression, and back. 

Ainley said she had to impose some term of incarceration, given the two deaths, and, on April 1, in a courtroom packed with his supporters, sentenced Browning to a 10-month term in the Camp Verde jail, followed by seven years of intensive probation, which she likened to “house arrest.” He will also do 400 hours of community service.

Napper said the Davirros’ deaths are “something (Browning) will live with for the rest of his life. Not a day goes by that he does not think about what he did and the lives he took.” Article Link…

At the sentencing, Browning addressed the victims’ family members.

As tears ran down his face, he said, “If I could sacrifice myself for them, I would. Nothing I can say will change what I did or bring them back, but I want you to know that my heart will always be heavy for them. I am so sorry for your loss.”

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