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April 22, 2024

Inquest into death of Jarrad Antonovich begins

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Jarrad Antonovich. Photo supplied.

Yesterday the NSW State Coroner, Magistrate Teresa O’Sullivan, continued her investigations into deaths on the Northern Rivers following ‘natural therapies’. The latest coronial inquest is examining the death of 46 year old Jarrad Antonovich at Arcoora Arts & Eco Retreat near Kyogle in 2021.

Two witnesses appeared at the inquest in Lismore Court yesterday; Jarrad’s father Glen Antonovich, and a former kambo practitioner, Laara Cooper (kambo is an extraction from an Amazonian frog).

Glen Antonovich travelled from Victoria for the inquest. He said that his son was always a ‘gentle soul’, who became a musically talented young man with a strong interest in spirituality. Jarrad’s life changed greatly after he had a serious car accident in 1997, followed by a long period of recovery, which left him with lingering pain and other issues.

Having received a substantial amount of compensation for the accident, Mr Antonovich said his son was then targeted by people who ‘came out of the woodwork looking for money’.

Kambo and ayahuasca

Jarrad appears to have become interested in Amazonian traditional therapies after a visit to South America in 2003, although his father said he himself hadn’t heard of kambo or ayahuasca (a psychedelic drug extracted from South American plants) until after the two substances were implicated in his son’s death in 2021. Kambo was banned in Australia soon after.

Counsel assisting the inquest Dr Peggy Dwyer then took Mr Antonovich through the awful night when he heard of his son’s death, and what followed, particularly his conversation with Lore Solaris, who had been facilitating the ayahuasca ceremony at Arcoora on the night of his son’s death.

Mr Antonovich said Mr Solaris ‘spoke in generalities’, claiming that he and others present had done everything they could for Jarrad after he got into breathing difficulties and serious pain, although the ambulance was called late and further delayed by the remote location. Mr Antonovich said ‘something just didn’t add up at the time and still doesn’t add up now’.

He said he later spoke to a woman called Eliza, who was one of the owners of Arcoora, and asked about an incident report relating to his son’s death, mentioned on the Arcoora website, but this was subsequently deleted.

Despite Lore Solaris’s claim that Jarrad was ‘very loved’ by the Arcoora community, Mr Antonovich said he believed there was ‘an underlying cause to try and relieve him of some of his money’, possibly to buy land.

He went on to say, ‘I’m of the firm belief there’s been a cover up,’ with no expert medical help available at the retreat, and no risk mitigation practices. ‘It reminded me of the old doctors in the wild west, who sell a bottle of spirits claiming that this cures all,’ said Mr Antonovich.

Other drugs

Counsel representing Arcoora and other parties then talked about Jarrad’s history with other drugs, including marijuana, amphetamines and heroin, as well as questioning how closely father and son had been connected in the years leading up to Jarrad’s death. Mr Antonovich said his son had given up other drugs, including alcohol, years earlier.

Next to take the witness stand was Laara Cooper, who described herself as a holistic life coach and mentor, although she had formerly been a kambo practitioner. Ms Cooper said she had no formal medical qualifications, but had studied transpersonal psychology, conscious language coaching and Buddhism.

Amazonian tribes extract frog secretion to heighten awareness and energy for hunting, as well as healing, and now that tradition is being appropriated in Byron Shire. It’s not much fun for the frog. Image Youtube.

She said she became interested in kambo after taking it in Spain in 2014, from a travelling Brazilian practitioner, then became a practitioner or ‘ceremonial leader’ herself in 2016, after training with the head of the International Association of Kambo Practitioners (IAKP), Karen Darke, over a two week residential program near Mullumbimby.

Counsel Peggy Dwyer asked Ms Cooper to describe the risks she had been trained to look for when considering if it was safe for a person to take kambo. She said the major concern was anything potentially contributing to hyponatremia (shortage of salt in the blood), with people doing water fasts (excess water consumption) or intensive sauna therapy being unsuitable, along with pregnant or breastfeeding women, and anyone with a history of stroke or heart disease.

Ms Cooper said kambo put a strain on the heart, with a sudden increase in blood pressure, followed by a sharp decrease, which caused fainting in some people, but said she believed at the time of her training in 2016 that there was no risk from kambo for healthy people. She said she would always send an email warning potential clients of the contraindications before she gave them kambo, either in a one on one or group situation.

Laara Cooper said that she had taken ayahuasca since 1993 as a participant, but never administered it to others. In terms of the spiritual aspect of these substances, she said ‘it’s our way to commune with the divine’.

She revealed that ayahuasca was risky for people who are bipolar, and for those using antidepressants, notably SSRI types, ‘because it conflicts with the MAO [Monoamine oxidase] inhibitor aspect of the sacrament’. The other main active ingredient of ayahuasca is dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

History with key players

Laara Cooper then explained that she had known Lore Solaris for ‘a long time’ and had administered kambo to Jarrad Antonovich at retreat events organised by Mr Solaris on two occasions – at Wiseman’s Ferry and then at Arcoora – but not on 16 October 2021. She remembered Mr Antonovich expressing a desire to use the therapy to give up smoking.

She said that on both occasions Mr Antonovich had failed to ‘purge’ in the expected way after taking the drug (via vomiting or in the toilet), and had requested a higher dose, which she had refused to provide.

On the night of Mr Antonovich’s death, Ms Cooper said the person leading the kambo ceremony was a man named Cameron Kite. She herself had only been present at the time of the emergency due to a private commitment to another person attending the retreat. She said Mr Kite had not been her student and she had never seen him administering kambo, although she knew him.

Ms Cooper said she arrived at the event after dark that night, long after Jarrad Antonovich had taken kambo, and spoke to him several times on the verandah as his condition worsened, from symptoms such as a swollen face and throat, lower back pain, difficulty breathing and then abdominal pain, and inability to walk. She said Mr Antonovich was accompanied while all this was happening by various other people who had agreed (with her and Jarrad) that it was not appropriate to seek medical help, considering that he was not displaying any signs of hyponatremia.

She said Mr Antonovich was adamant that he didn’t want to go to hospital, saying, ‘I feel like this is a spiritual test that I need to pass.’

Fatal mistakes?

Ms Cooper said none of those present were aware at the time that Jarrad was showing symptoms of a perforated oesophagus, but she was concerned his body was not expelling the toxins in the usual way, with perhaps eight hours having elapsed at this time since he had taken the kambo. She said this aspect was not totally unusual, having been aware of another person who had been in a distressed state after taking kambo for 24 hours, although participants were usually completely recovered within about three hours.

Lore Solaris and Cameron Kite in 2020. FB.

She said she had spoken at the time to Cameron Kite, who believed Jarrad needed ayahuasca on top of what was already in his system to ‘bring on the purge’.

While she disagreed with the other practitioner on this, she said she had relented ‘because it was his client and I trusted his perspective’.

Ms Cooper said there was no one present, as far as she knew, with professional medical training or the ability to deal with a medical emergency, although there was a former fireman who knew CPR.

When she eventually decided to ring the ambulance, Ms Cooper agreed that she had not mentioned kambo or ayahuasca on triple 0 or to the ambulance officers, instead discussing Jarrad’s breathing difficulties, with asthma being considered.

Ms Cooper then denied being the woman who reportedly asked ambulance officers ‘to move away from Jarrad because it was interfering with his aura’, saying she allowed herself to be ushered away so that they could take over.

Counsel Peggy Dwyer told the witness that the pathology report indicated that the perforated oesophagus which led to Mr Antonovich’s passing was caused by excessive vomiting, due to DMT toxicity. Ms Cooper said he hadn’t been vomiting, ‘that was the whole problem’.

‘That was what you thought was the whole problem,’ responded Dr Dwyer.

After the other lawyers present demanded more time to respond to Laara Cooper’s testimony, Peggy Dwyer explained that Ms Cooper had delayed going overseas to appear at the inquest, but would now stay on so she could hear from experts and be examined further on Wednesday.

Late questions revolved around the question of Jarrad Antonovich’s heroin addiction, with the suggestion that if had still been current at the time of death, then it could have been a major contributing factor. Dr Peggy Dwyer said this was not in line with other witness statements from those who had known Mr Antonovich, or the pathologist’s report, which had found no drugs in Jarrad’s system apart from DMT, at a toxic level.

Tomorrow the inquest continues, and will hear from expert medical witnesses. The Echo will continue coverage.

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  1. I would question the wisdom of using the term ‘natural therapies’ to refer to drugs or other similar substances that have no history of traditional use in Western countries. Such a weirdly inaccurate use of language risks sending a subliminal and completely misleading message to people without a lot of experience in this area that their lives could be at risk if they visit a Bowen practitioner or consult a herbalist. Hopefully this misjudgment was accidental, but perhaps it was premeditated.

  2. Firstly we hear of a kambo practitioner who claimed to not know the number for emergency services as their client was frothing at the mouth and going into cardiac arrest . Now we hear of paramedics being told to move away from a patient with breathing difficulties because they were interfering with his aura. I have no problem with fools and their money being soon parted – there is a massive Northern Rivers black healing economy keeping many essentially unemployable people well fed and partially clothed – but surely it’s time to demand higher standards of care from these “ceremonial leaders”.

  3. It must be awesome to be so spiritually evolved that you can carry on your little ceremony oblivious to someone dying nearby.


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