A day after Christopher Kelly died in Chicago, a host of questions remained Sunday about the final hours of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's onetime top adviser, who was about to start serving a prison term.
Police said Sunday that they didn't yet know whether Kelly, 51, tried to kill himself by ingesting the drugs found inside the 2007 Cadillac Escalade registered to his roofing company. But a girlfriend told police that Kelly said he wanted to commit suicide in text messages he sent to her.
After an autopsy, the Cook County medical examiner's office said more studies are needed before determining a cause of death.
Plus, there's a person whom police called a "mystery man" with gray hair who unsuccessfully tried to pick up Kelly's SUV from the hospital with keys in hand -- whom police are still trying to identify.
"We're piecing this together as we go along," Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch said during a news conference Sunday.
Kelly was set to start the nearly 8-year federal sentence this week after pleading guilty to federal mail fraud in an $8.5 million kickback scheme at O'Hare International Airport and to previous tax offenses. A close confidant of Blagojevich's and his chief fundraiser, Kelly faced intense pressure from prosecutors seeking help in their federal case against the impeached governor.
Police in Country Club Hills -- where Tylenol wrappers and a large container of pills were found in Kelly's SUV in the parking lot of a lumber yard -- said their main witness, Clarissa Flores-Buhelos, became uncooperative with police after dropping off Kelly at Oak Forest Hospital late Friday. Her attorney vehemently denied that Flores-Buhelos is not cooperating.
What is known is that Kelly arrived at the hospital about 11:15 p.m. Friday, suffering from what appeared to be an overdose, officials said.
The police officer who interviewed Kelly in the hospital said he told him that he took Tylenol for pain because of recent surgery, said Country Club Hills Police Chief Regina Evans. On Saturday, the medical examiner's office said Stroger Hospital officials told it that Kelly apparently had an intoxication of salicylate, a drug used in anti-inflammatory and pain relief medications such as aspirin.
Later, Kelly became "very defensive," Welch said. He told an officer: "I know what you are trying to do. You are trying to trick me," according to Evans. The officer said Kelly did not admit to trying to kill himself, she added.
Flores-Buhelos initially told police that Friday night she received text messages from Kelly -- who was married but estranged from his wife -- saying he had tried to kill himself, Welch said.
She then arrived from Chicago at the Forest Lumber Co. parking lot -- near a storage yard owned by Kelly's company -- and found him inside his SUV, covered in vomit, officials said. She pushed him into the passenger seat and apparently drove to Oak Forest Hospital, Welch said.
What happened there and the kind of medical care Kelly received after arriving are among the remaining mysteries about his death.
After seeming incoherent, Kelly apparently became lucid enough to speak to police and was stabilized at one point early Saturday.
Later that morning, his condition apparently deteriorated enough for hospital officials to send Kelly to Stroger Hospital in Chicago, about 25 miles away from Oak Forest.
Cook County health officials said Oak Forest Hospital doctors thought it made more sense for him to be treated at Stroger, which, unlike their hospital, has a trauma center.
When asked why Kelly wasn't transferred to a closer hospital, Cook County Health and Hospitals System spokesman Lucio Guerrero said it's "standard procedure" to transfer patients from one county health facility to Stroger when trauma care is needed after they have been stabilized.
Marcel Bright, Stroger Hospital spokesman, wrote in an e-mail: "The treatment or treatments necessary could be better facilitated at Stroger. He was stabilized before being transported."
Kelly was pronounced dead in Stroger at 10:46 a.m. Saturday, officials said.
Bright declined to comment further on Kelly's treatment, citing federal patient privacy laws.
Police plan on Monday to go over security surveillance cameras at Oak Forest Hospital to see who showed up after Kelly, partially in hopes of identifying a white-haired man who tried to drive away in Kelly's SUV before hospital police stopped him.
The man left without an explanation, Welch said.
"That's [Kelly's] best friend, that's all we know right now," Welch said, adding that police also will target the text messages allegedly sent by Kelly to Flores-Buhelos.
In a news conference that veered toward the bizarre, Welch accused Flores-Buhelos of holding information back from police.
"Flores has 'lawyered up,' as we call it in the trade," said Welch, a former police sergeant in Country Club Hills, later holding up Flores-Buhelos driver's license for the news media to photograph.
Reached by phone, Flores-Buhelos declined to comment Sunday, other than to sigh and say, "You know," when asked how she is doing.
Her attorney, Terry Gillespie, said the suggestion that his client was being uncooperative is "unconscionable grandstanding." He and Flores-Buhelos are scheduled to meet with Country Club Hills police Monday morning, Welch said.
One person talking publicly Sunday about Kelly's death was Blagojevich.
From New York, where the former governor has been publicizing a new book, Blagojevich used his weekly radio show to blame his friend's death partly on federal prosecutors who had been trying to pressure Kelly into cooperating.
"Chris Kelly took his life because of the pressure he was under," Blagojevich said during his show on WLS-AM.
"He refused to make it easier on himself to lie about someone else," the former governor said, referring to Blagojevich's pending case. "He refused to lie about someone and not stand up for the truth."
Vowing to beat his own charges, Blagojevich added: "My friend Chris Kelly's death will not be in vain."
Tribune reporters John Chase, Stacy St. Clair, William Lee, Carlos Sadovi, Andrew L. Wang and Hal Dardick and freelance reporter Marjorie Ritchie contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org