Heroin addict thought falling of the wagon once wouldn't hurt

  • Kelly Costello

    Kelly Costello

Updated 4/4/2014 5:36 PM
Editor's note: This story originally ran on Oct. 6, 2002 as part of the Daily Herald's "Hidden Scourge: Heroin in the Suburbs" series.

This is part of an occasional series of reports about area teens and young adults whose deaths this year are attributed to drug and alcohol abuse.

Kelly Costello fell asleep on an unfamiliar bed and in unfamiliar surroundings in the early morning hours of May 19.


But she had two very familiar feelings with her when she drifted off: her 4-year-old son snuggling at her side and heroin pumping through her veins.

The heroin was the capper on a long day and night of partying to celebrate her boyfriend's move to a new apartment in Lake in the Hills.

Her boyfriend, Tom Coronado, said the heroin was a surprise gift from Costello, her way of congratulating him on the larger apartment, one she believed might soon be home for her and her son.

Costello, 22, and her son lived at her mother's home in rural Burlington. But in recent months, she and the boy had been spending more and more time with the 29-year-old Coronado and had been living with him full-time for three days before the move.

Both had quit using heroin several months earlier, Coronado later told police, but figured his move to a new apartment made it a special occasion. A one-time fall from the wagon, they decided, couldn't hurt.

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When Coronado woke up on a couch in the apartment about 5 a.m., his head and body throbbing, he immediately decided he was in no shape to go to work that day.

Instead, he dragged himself off the couch and walked to the apartment's master bedroom, where he could hear Costello snoring.

Taking a peek in the bedroom, Coronado saw her asleep on the bed, still wearing the blue jeans, jean jacket and blacks boot she had on the previous day. Her son, Cole, slept beside her, oblivious to his mother's snoring.

Coronado decided against disturbing them and headed back to sleep on the couch.

When he woke again about three hours later, the snoring was gone.

Coronado walked back to the bedroom and found Costello laying face down, her son still beside her. When he turned her over to wake her up, he knew instantly something was wrong.

His girlfriend's face was colorless, except for her lips, which were a deep shade of blue. Her skin felt cool and she wasn't breathing.

Kelly Costello was dead.


An hour later, well after emergency workers had left the apartment having failed to revive Costello, Coronado met up with his younger sister, Britney, in the apartment complex.

"She's dead," he told her, according to police reports. "We only did a bit, but she's dead."

Developing the habit

Kelly M. Costello was born in July 1979 to Brian and Gail Costello in Chicago, but by her teenage years, she was a long way from the big city.

Living in the rural Kane County village of Burlington, she attended Central High School, where her graduating class numbered just 126 students. It was an atmosphere some might think immune to hardcore drugs like heroin and cocaine.

But, according to police reports, Costello found both in and around rural Kane County.

How and why she chose to get involved with those drugs remains a mystery to many, even some of the people who knew her in Burlington.

Family members declined repeated interview requests, leaving only police and coroner's reports to piece together an answer to those questions.

Her senior yearbook lends few clues about Costello and her life.

She appears just once in the yearbook, for her class picture. Next to her class picture there's no recognition of her participating in clubs or sports. Unlike many of her classmates, she did not submit a quote to be remembered by.

The yearbook, however, belied Costello's "outgoing, loving" nature, friend Chris Korotenko said.

"She was a nice person and a good friend," said Korotenko, who became friends with Costello in high school.

Korotenko said he did not know her as a drug user.

"I never saw her taking drugs," he said. "That's why it was such a shock to so many people that this happened to her. I didn't know about (her drug use) and I know a lot of people didn't."

Costello may have been able to shield it from some friends, but by her 21st birthday, her use of hard drugs, including cocaine and heroin, were no secret to her family, police reports indicate.

Family members told investigators Kelly began using heroin in fall 2001. They blamed Coronado for starting her on the drug, saying he introduced her to heroin about eight months before her death.

About six months later, family members held an intervention for Costello, pleading with her to drop heroin and Coronado from her life.

Family members would not discuss whether the intervention was a success, but police reports indicate they believed it kept her off heroin for at least a short time.

According to Coronado, however, the intervention wasn't necessary. He told investigators both he and Kelly had stopped using about two months earlier - he through a treatment program and Kelly on her own.

With the exception of one brief statement, Coronado turned down a request to talk about Costello.

"Everybody's got the wrong idea about her," Coronado said. "Kelly wasn't a drug addict. She was a good person."

However, in interviews with police after her death he revealed many details about her drug use, their time together and the last day of her life.

A friendly celebration

May 18 was moving day for Tom Coronado and Kelly Costello.

The move itself was just a few hundred feet - from one building in a Lake in the Hills apartment complex to the other - but it meant big changes for the couple, friends and family told police.

Coronado's new place along Pyott Road was larger, affording more space for Costello's increasingly frequent overnight stays with her son. The change also would allow Coronado's younger sister, Britney Coronado, to move into his former apartment.

When they finished the move, Costello and Coronado planned to celebrate and thank their friends and neighbors for their help with a quarter barrel of beer and a barbecue in the complex's common area.

However, according to several neighbors who helped with the move and talked to police, the celebrating started well before the moving ended.

One told investigators Costello started drinking beer at 10 a.m. that morning and many others were drinking by early afternoon. Before night's end, Coronado said, Costello had drank at least 12 beers and smoked marijuana.

By evening, witnesses told police, Costello was "very out of it." Several suspected she was ingesting more than beer.

"She was more than intoxicated from alcohol, definitely high," one party guest said, according to police reports.

An intoxicated Kelly Costello was nothing new around the Lake in the Hills apartment complex, witnesses said.

One neighbor told investigators he thought "Costello always looked like a zombie." A second neighbor told police she and Costello had a long conversation about drug use about a week before her death. Costello told the neighbor "heroin was her drug of choice and that she dabbles in cocaine," police reports state.

The nightcap

The partying went on late into the night, prompting at least one complaint to police about the gathering. Finally, at about midnight, the party started to break up, and Costello and Coronado walked up to his new second-floor apartment.

It was then, he said, that Costello pulled from her pocket a small plastic bag containing three small brown chunks of heroin. She bought the drugs, Coronado said she told him, a few nights earlier at a Hampshire tavern.

Although they had quit taking the drug, Coronado told police neither feared that using it that night would lead them to relapse. They believed it would take three consecutive days of using to become addicted again.

Most of the time, Coronado told police, he and Kelly injected their heroin with a syringe.

This time, however, they decided to snort the brown powder. Each took one small chunk, crushed it on a plate and inhaled the heroin with a rolled up dollar bill, he said.

Coronado described the drug use in a written statement he gave police later that morning:

"About 12 a.m. me and Kelly did one small amount of heroin," Coronado wrote. "We went to sleep soon after that. We were both very coherent."

When he found his girlfriend unconscious and not breathing about eight hours later, Coronado tried to revive her through CPR for more than 20 minutes.

Finally, at 8:55 a.m., Coronado dialed 911. His girlfriend wouldn't wake up, he told the dispatcher. He thought she was dead.

About 30 minutes later and 20 miles away, the phone rang at 9:27 a.m. in the home of Kelly's mom, Gail Costello. Her boyfriend, Gary Schorsch, picked up the line and heard the voice of Tom Coronado.

"Kelly's dead," he said. "Let me talk to Gail."

A few weeks later, during a McHenry County coroner's inquest, jurors who heard evidence about her overdose decided Costello's death was an accident.

A forensic pathologist, jurors were told, found that she died of an acute heroin overdose. Her heavy drinking in the 24 hours before her death also played a role, Dr. Larry Blum determined.

Tom Coronado was arrested the morning of May 19 but does not face charges in connection with Costello's death.

Instead, the Lake in the Hills man is charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia. Police said they found heroin, marijuana and pipes used for inhaling drugs in his apartment.

He also faces a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment. It accuses him of threatening harm to Costello's son by keeping drugs in the boy's presence.

Coronado, who is scheduled to appear in court on the charges Nov. 8, also declined comment on the case.

Final resting place

Burlington Township Union Cemetery sits surrounded by farm fields on a two-lane road about a mile south of town.

Off to one side of the cemetery, in an area unobstructed with markers and tombstones, sits a recently dug grave surrounded by flowers, a bright gold ribbon and a white flamingo perched atop a stand.

A temporary marker over the grave reads: Kelly M. Costello, 1979-2002. Below it, unnoticeable on first glance, sits a gray angel figurine, its head bowed, hands folded and wings spread wide.

A patch of thick grass grows over the angel's body and head, nearly obscuring it from sight, swallowing everything but the wings.

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