WOONSOCKET â€“ Developmentally challenged and diagnosed with epilepsy, Stuart Gast Jr. hadnâ€™t had a seizure in more than eight years.
But his symptoms came back unexpectedly on Monday after Gast had a bizarre encounter with a thief who stole his dog carrier outside his apartment at John F. Kennedy Manor.
And within hours, Gast, 33, was dead.
â€śI canâ€™t even find the words to explain how badly I feel about this,â€ť says Lisa Jean, a family friend. â€śThere arenâ€™t any. You canâ€™t even take your dog for a walk anymore without something like this happening.â€ť
Gast's troubles began when he had his six-pound chihuahua, Oreo, on a leash after taking him out of the pet-friendly high rise on Clinton Street in a pet carrier. Gast placed the carrier on the ground briefly when someone grabbed it and started running.
Rachel Currier, Gastâ€™s mother, said her son chased the thief from behind JFK Manor to the corner of Cumberland Street, a distance of about 200 yards. The pursuit took place at about 10 a.m.
Gast was still holding Oreo on a leash as he chased after the carrier thief and he didnâ€™t realize the tiny dog couldnâ€™t keep up, according to Currier. Oreoâ€™s paws got road-burn from being dragged along the ground during the pursuit. The danger to the dog was the reason Gast stopped chasing the perpetrator.
For the next few hours, Gast never regained his composure, according to his mother. He blamed himself for what happened to the dog and he seemed incapable of calming down.
â€śThe whole time he was stewing and brewing,â€ť said Currier. â€śHe ended up hurting the pads on Oreoâ€™s feet and that just hounded him something awful.â€ť
Currier lived in the same apartment at JFK as his parents. About 4:30 p.m. Currier said she heard a thud in Gastâ€™s bedroom.
She walked in and found him collapsed in a heap beside the bed, with his head tucked near his feet. His body was trembling and making gurgling noises.
â€śAll of a sudden he stopped shaking and the noises stopped,â€ť she said. â€śI tried to find a pulse but I couldnâ€™t.â€ť
Emergency responders from the Woonsocket Fire Department and doctors at Landmark Medical Center worked hard to keep Gast alive. Currier said she has been told by medical personnel that her sonâ€™s heart stopped beating, and he was subsequently revived, four times in all while he was en route to or in the hospital.
It beat for the last time around 7 p.m., just as paramedics were preparing to transfer him to Rhode Island Hospital, she said.
Detective Jamie Paone, a spokeswoman for the Woonsocket Police Department, said a detective has been assigned to investigate the larceny of Gastâ€™s dog carrier, but police are not looking at his death as a homicide.
â€śAbsolutely, itâ€™s very sad,â€ť she said. â€śCriminally, however, I donâ€™t think weâ€™d be able to charge anyone with causing his death as a result of the chase. It would be a stretch. He had a history of medical problems.â€ť
Currier said she understands what the police are saying and accepts it, but that doesnâ€™t mean she has to like it.
â€śNothingâ€™s going to bring my son back,â€ť she said. â€śEverything that happened is because of the seizure. We know that but we canâ€™t prove it.â€ť
As far as catching the thief is concerned, the police donâ€™t have much to go on, said Paone. Gast provided the police with only a vague description of the perpetrator. Itâ€™s unknown whether there were any other witnesses to the chase.
â€śNo oneâ€™s come forward,â€ť said Paone, adding that police would welcome tips about the incident.
Though Gast had a noticeable speech impediment Currier says it was hard to tell her son was developmentally challenged just by looking at him. In fact he was quite active and loved bowling.
â€śI always called him my social butterfly,â€ť she said.
Gast was a member of the JFK Wii Bowling League and the USBC Bowling League at Diamond Hill Road, according to his mother. He had also been active in Special Olympics for many years.
â€śHeâ€™s going to be buried in his Special Olympics uniform if I can just get up the courage to go into the closet and go through his things,â€ť she said.
Of course, Gast loved his dog. JFK Manor, operated by the Woonsocket Housing Authority, allows pets, but there are certain rules owners are supposed to follow.
Gast was doing just that when he walked Oreo for the last time. Pets must be transported in a carrier when they are in common areas of the building and may be transferred to a leash only when they reach the grounds of the facility.
Currier said her son was diagnosed with epilepsy many years ago and the family tried many different medications to get his seizures under control. She said he took his medications religiously since doctors found an effective treatment and Gast hadnâ€™t had a seizure in at least eight years that she can remember.
â€śI think all the emotion of what happened that got him so stressed and his dog getting hurt in the process, I think thatâ€™s what brought it on,â€ť she said.
The precise cause of Gastâ€™s death is under investigation by the state medical examiner, which is conducting an autopsy, according to police and family members.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo