Marin family hopes sons untimely death will be lesson for others

Everyone said the same thing about Daniel Ashkenazy. He had that laugh. You know? That chuckle that would turn into a big, hearty guffaw and pick up everyone in the room.

He was a caring friend and a driven, intelligent student who always finished all his work with time to spare to go out and have a good time.

“We’d go to parties and he’d drink like everyone else was drinking,”  said a friend at U.C. San Diego.

“He’d wake up the next day, ready to take on life full speed ahead.”

Except on Jan. 14, he didn’t.

Ashkenazy, a Tiburon native, marked his bar mitzvah at Congregation Kol Shofar and was a 2002 graduate of Redwood High. He was 20 years old.

The results of his autopsy may not be ready for several months, but, already, his family is hoping to prevent similar tragedies by speaking out against what they believe to be the cause of his death — the mixing of alcohol and the powerful painkiller OxyContin.

“A number of Daniel’s friends came up to me, one of whom had just gotten out of treatment. They were all star students, just like Daniel at UCSD,” said Pamela Ashkenazy, his mother.

“One young woman Daniel’s age passed away at U.C. Santa Barbara over Thanksgiving in the same circumstances as Daniel. I think it’s very important we inform both kids and parents of the potential fatality of this combination of drugs.”

Members of Ashkenazy’s family called for families to keep a closer eye on their children and for universities to take substance abuse more seriously.

“The important thing for parents out there and kids who are still alive is that any signs and symptoms of substance abuse or alcohol abuse should have immediate intervention and treatment,” said Barbara Smith, a nurse and one of Ashkenazy’s six aunts on his mother’s side.

Smith called for more “zero-tolerance” policies on university campuses regarding drugs and alcohol. Without more intervention, colleges will remain “breeding grounds for potential death.”

Ashkenazy was the only child of Pamela and Dan Ashkenazy, an Israeli, and news of his death reached the family at an unbelievably painful time. Dan had just picked up his parents from Israel for what was supposed to be a long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend get-together.

Instead, they all attended his funeral at Kol Shofar, presided over by Rabbi Lavey Derby, who had officiated at Ashkenazy’s bar mitzvah.

“It is horrible. It is painful. It is tragic. It is sad all the way around,” said a distraught Derby.

“He was a very lovely kid. He had great potential. It came as a great shock to everybody.”

The sudden turn of events left Daniel Ashkenazy’s friends and family shaking their heads. This isn’t supposed to happen to guys like Daniel.

“He had the most intense work ethic I’ve ever seen. But he was a real fun guy. He made everyone laugh all the time. You were never worried about him at all,” said a friend who went to school with Ashkenazy at Redwood High, asking that his name not be used.

“He just got a law internship a couple of weeks ago. His grades were high. Everything came easy to him. Everything was a piece of cake. He had so much going for him in life. He had so many people on his side.”

But, notes Smith, his intelligence, athleticism and loving parents couldn’t save him.

“Oftentimes, kids that come from wealth, lots of kids from Marin, have access to drugs and alcohol and they can be doing quite well and appear normal,” said Smith.

OxyContin, she noted, can easily be obtained over the Internet. Combined with alcohol, the powerful narcotic can induce respiratory paralysis.

 Ashkenazy’s college friend notes that 50 or 60 of “Dan the Man’s” San Diego friends drove north for the funeral, joining an equal number of Marin friends.
“So many family and friends loved and cared for him,” he said.

Contributions in Daniel Ashkenazy’s memory can be sent to an adolescent drug treatment facility of your choice.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.