Christopher Kelly Dead in Apparent Suicide

Ousted governor's friend, aide due to start prison term this week

Christopher Kelly -- one of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's best friends and top aides -- is dead, just days after pleading guilty to fraud and being sentenced to more than five years in prison.

The circumstances surrounding Kelly's death are suspicious at least -- an apparent aspirin overdose, drugs found in his car and a mystery "friend" who showed up at the hospital, looking for Kelly's car.

But before he died in the hospital, Kelly told a police officer that "he did take an overdose," Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch said.  Authorities found a variety of drugs in a vehicle belonging to the 51-year-old Kelly, according to Welch.

"We're piecing this together as we go along because -- quite frankly -- we're not being given the whole truth," the mayor said.

Kelly's self-identified girlfriend, 30-year-old Clarissa Flores-Bunelos, told police she drove Kelly to the hospital.  According to police, she said she and Kelly had been text messaging each other before she drove from the city to a lumber yard near 173rd St. and Cicero in Country Club Hills and found him in his sport-utility vehicle. She told police she saw vomit inside and outside the SUV, and pushed him over to the passenger side of the vehicle and drove him to Oak Forest Hospital of Cook County.

But after that initial statement, she "lawyered up," and has stopped cooperating with investigators, Welch said.

Kelly died Saturday at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in Chicago, and Welch said police are investigating the death as suicide.  Kelly apparently died of a salicylate overdose, according to preliminary findings of the Medical Examiner's Office.  They're common drugs found in aspirin, topical ointments and stomach medicines.  An autopsy was conducted at 8 a.m. Sunday, and by the afternoon authorities released a document showing the official cause of death was "pending further study."  Toxicology results that will tell investigators exactly what was in Kelly's blood may be weeks away.

There's one other strange medical detail of note.  After Kelly was taken to the hospital, an officer noticed tubes in or around Kelly's groin.  The officer asked about it, and Kelly said he had recently undergone some sort of surgery and was taking pain medication. 

"This is all medical. It's a doctor relationship that you have to get into. It's going to require a lot of investigation from us -- a lot of subpoenas and a lot of search warrants -- but we're going to do it all," he said.

In addition to Kelly's girlfriend, police want to talk with a mystery man who came to Oak Forest Hospital, where Kelly was initially treated, looking for Kelly's black Cadillac Escalade, Welch said.  That's the car that was used to drive Kelly to the hospital -- and when police towed the Escalade, they found drugs and Flores-Bunelos' wallet inside, according to Welch.

"The different drugs found in the car indicate it wasn't just Aleve," Welch said, but he declined to say what kind of drugs they were, and whether any were illegal.

Kelly was due to report to prison this week, to start serving a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to fraud.  He was also charged as a co-defendant in the indictment against Blagojevich, and was reportedly being courted by prosecutors as a witness in that case.

Blagojevich, on tour promoting his new book, told WGN-AM he was saddened by his friend's death.  But true to his reputation, the governor took it a bit further, saying he knows what drove Kelly to kill himself.

"Chris Kelly took his life because of the unbelievable pressure he was under," Blagojevich said. "I have it on good authority that he was offered a significantly reduced sentence if he was prepared to lie and say things that weren't true about me, yet he refused to do it."

 All that adds up to an untimely death with a lot of loose ends -- when did Kelly take the medicine that apparently killed him?  Who, if anyone, was with him at the time?  And without Kelly's testimony, will the case against Blagojevich start to unravel?

Only time, and a thorough investigation, will tell.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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