Test showing tranquilizer in boy’s blood likely a false positive - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Toxicologist: Test showing tranquilizer in Shacknai boy’s blood likely a false positive

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CORONADO, Calif. (CBS8) -- A false-positive test may explain why a benzodiazepine class of tranquilizer was detected in 6-year-old Max Shacknai's blood shortly after he tumbled off a staircase at Coronado's historic Spreckels mansion July 11.

The boy's toxicology report dated July 29, obtained by KFMB News 8, showed a "Presumptive Positive" test result for benzodiazepines after the San Diego County Medical Examiner conducted a routine "Drugs of Abuse Screen" using a scientific testing method known as ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay).

Because of the presumptive-positive result, the medical examiner's Chief Toxicologist Iain McIntyre ordered another, more specific test to either confirm or negate the initial detection of benzodiazepines.

That second test used an analysis method called HPLC/DAD (high-performance liquid chromatography) to check for traces of benzodiazepines in Max's blood samples, which were collected upon the boy's arrival at the hospital following his fall.

The second test showed benzodiazepines were "Not Detected," according to the toxicology report.

In the final autopsy report, San Diego County Deputy Medical Examiner Jonathan Lucas concluded, "Toxicology testing detected of blood drawn during admission to the hospital revealed a presumptive positive benzodiazepines screen, but this was not confirmed."

"No illicit drugs, other medications, or alcohol was detected," Lucas wrote.

Toxicologist Dr. Naresh Jain said the blood testing sequence in Max Shacknai's death was typical.

"In a forensic laboratory it is standard practice to do two independent tests. One is a presumptive test and the second is a confirmatory test," said Dr. Jain, the director of National Toxicology Laboratories in Buena Park, CA.

Jain said there are a couple reasons why the second HPLD/DAD test would come back with a different result of "Not Detected."

"Number one is that the presumptive test was totally negative; there was no benzodiazepine drug present. It could be totally, 100% false positive," Dr. Jain said. "And secondly, there may be a minuscule amount of benzodiazepine" in the blood that was not detected in the second test.

Either way, Jain said drugs likely played no role the in the death of Max Shacknai.  "At least the drugs that were tested," Dr. Jain clarified.

On Friday, San Diego County Sheriff's investigators ruled Max's death accidental. Investigators believe he may have tripped and fallen over the stairway railing, suffering a severe neck injury that cut off blood and oxygen to his brain.

The woman watching Max at the time of his fall was Rebecca Zahau, 32, who was found hanging in the same Ocean Blvd. mansion on July 13, after being notified that Max would not survive his injuries. The boy was taken off life support July 16.

Zahau was the girlfriend of the mansion owner, Arizona millionaire Jonah Shacknai, 54. Her death was ruled a suicide by hanging, a finding strongly disputed by the woman's family.

Zahau's toxicology report detected no alcohol or drugs in her system following routine blood screenings.

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