Man killed walking on I-71/75 let down by mental healthcare safety net, family says

Jeffrey Alden’s mania was enough to get him turned away at church and arrested. It wasn’t enough to put him in a hospital.
Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 10:28 PM EDT
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COVINGTON, Ky. (WXIX) - The family of a man killed walking on southbound Interstate 71/75 last week say he had fallen through the cracks of the mental healthcare system.

Jeffrey Alden, 34, of Burlington, died late on Oct. 13 at the MLK on-ramp near the cut in the hill, according to the Covington Police Department.

Police said last week Jeffrey may have been in a manic state at the time. His father, Steve Alden, and sister, Sandy Kealey, confirmed as much on Tuesday.

“Caring,” Sandy said of Jeffrey. “He would give you the shirt off his back—and often did to homeless people. Real sweet, very thoughtful person.”

Steve says Jeffrey was diagnosed with bipolar disorder five years ago.

“It was an off-and-on situation with the medications,” he said.

The family got their first red flag he might have been off those medications the Saturday before his death.

“He had said he had started to fast,” Sandy said. “And my husband said, ‘Ok, that’s good, but what are you fasting for?’ And he never really could put into words what he was fasting for.”

Knowing something didn’t seem right,” Steve tried meeting Jeffrey at church Sunday morning. Jeffrey had already been told to go home when Steve arrived.

“He was overzealous,” Steve said. “You don’t often hear churches turning someone away because they’re praising God too much, but that’s basically what it amounted to.”

His family says they called police in Northern Kentucky trying to find him and check in, but they didn’t know where he was until Monday.

“He was in jail because he had jumped on the field down at the stadium,” Steve said.

Court records show Jeffrey was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. He was released on bond on Monday.

The next day, Sandy came into town from Atlanta working with her father trying to talk Jeffrey into getting help.

“We couldn’t get him to stay in that parking lot with us, but he was irrational, saying strange things,” Sandy recalled.

On Wednesday, Jeffrey’s family says they called police again trying to get Jeffrey into a hospital for a 72-hour psychiatric hold. The family says police told them the officer that spoke with Jeffrey hadn’t done so.

“He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know Jeff,” Steve said of the officer. “He’s doing his job as it’s defined. He sees no law-breaking going on.”

Dr. Ed Connor, a psychologist in Northern Kentucky, explains what it takes to get someone admitted for a psychiatric hold.

“The way the system works now, they have to be an imminent danger to themselves,” Connor said. “Maybe they’re suicidal or voicing some sort of suicidal threat, or homicidal, or they’re threatening others.”

Jeffrey’s family says that definition didn’t include him.

“He told me several times, ‘Dad, they keep asking if I’m going to kill myself, and I’m not going to kill myself. There’s no way I’m going to kill myself,’” Steve recalled.

Connor says holes in the mental healthcare system do exist.

“Legislation maybe has to be broadened and reviewed in light of the fact that maybe we’ve gone a little too far in relying simply on the threat issue and not the instability of the individual,” he said.

The family is sharing Jeffrey’s story hoping for change.

“How many more sons or daughters are we going to lose?” Sandy said. “Or brothers? Or sisters? Because the programs in the system aren’t there.”

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