Friend says, ‘I expect him to call’

RANGELY — Clay Halcomb still has a hard time believing his friend is gone.
Halcomb was at the party the night of April 18 at a rural cabin between Rangely and Meeker, where, the following morning, friends awoke to find Austin Stoner unresponsive.
“I think I’m a little bit in denial,” said Halcomb, who will be a pallbearer at Stoner’s funeral Saturday at Rangely High School. “I expect him to call me and make plans to do something, or I expect him to come down here for the weekend.”
Stoner, who attended high school in Rangely from his freshman year through the middle of second semester his junior year, had been living most recently in Loma with his dad, stepmom and two stepsisters, and working in Fruita. However, he frequently returned to Rangely to see friends.
“He came back about every weekend,” said Halcomb, who graduated from RHS in 2008.
Halcomb and Stoner had been friends since their freshman year at Rangely High School. Halcomb said his friend liked to party.
“He had been known to pass out,” Halcomb said. “He was kind of a heavy drinker. So everyone just thought he looked normal (when he passed out at the cabin, where the party was held), like he was sleeping.”
Halcomb said he was one of nine people, including Stoner, who spent the night at the cabin.
“We had been going out there and partying like the last three weeks,” Halcomb said. “I was there when we found him. We all got up at the same time. One of the friends was laying next to him (Stoner), and he said he wasn’t moving and he was cold, and that’s how we found him.”
Halcomb said the friends felt panic as they considered what to do.
“We didn’t know if we could do anything,” Halcomb said. “We drove a ways until we could get cell phone service and called 911. I know a couple of us were crying, and one of our friends just shut down and wouldn’t say anything.”
Even then, Halcomb said it was hard to believe what was happening.
“We got back to the cabin expecting to see him standing outside waiting for us,” Halcomb said.
A Rio Blanco County sheriff’s investigator said Stoner died of an overdose of alcohol combined with taking prescription pills – morphine.
“I rode up there with him to the cabin,” Halcomb said. “We were in the same vehicle, and he pulled out a bottle of pills and told me where he got them from. He said he had heard if you drank and took (morphine) pills, you’d feel good. He said he stole (the pills) from his aunt in (Grand) Junction. That’s where he said he got ‘em from.”
“I’ve heard that, too, but I can’t confirm it,” sheriff’s investigator Kinney said. “I’ve identified at least three potential sources, and two of them are missing pills. So, it’s a possibility, but nothing we can prove.”
Asked how many pills Stoner took, Halcomb said, “He took four pills.”
“That’s what we were told, but no one saw him do it,” said Sgt. Kinney. “We don’t know what he was drinking for sure. I was told beer, but there was also hard liquor out there.”
A pathologist report is expected by the end of the week.
Halcomb said his friend’s death has hit him and others hard.
“I think for everyone … it’s the closest person to us who has died. We don’t really know how to take it,” Halcomb said. “I think we all learned a lesson about reckless partying.”