‘I couldn’t breathe:’ Tavares officer who overdosed in traffic stop recounts fentanyl exposure

Fellow officers administered NARCAN to Courtney Bannick after stop

TAVARES, Fla. – A Tavares police officer who was revived with NARCAN after being exposed to fentanyl during a traffic stop is speaking about her experience.

Officer Courtney Bannick was back at the Tavares Police Department on Thursday where she discussed locating fentanyl on a passenger early Tuesday and placed that person into custody.

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“We made the mindful decision that we’re going to go back to the police department because it was windy. We’ll test (the narcotics) there. Sadly, I just never made it there,” Bannick said.

Body camera video shows Bannick leaving the scene, before police said she was heard choking and breathless on her radio.

“As soon as I started talking, I was light-headed a little bit and started almost choking,” she said. “I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t getting enough air and I remember kind of wheezing, gasping.”

Bannick said she wasn’t anxious about encountering fentanyl, which she’s handled many times before during traffic stops. She also said she took precautions during the traffic stop.

“I’m very mindful that I don’t touch my face if I have gloves on, but did I wipe my nose with my wrist? I don’t know,” she said.

Other responding officers observed Bannick in and out of consciousness and needing immediate attention, police said.

Sgt. Mahaney and K-9 Handler Lt. Brown, from Tavares and Astatula police departments respectively, administered three doses of NARCAN to Bannick and transported her to the hospital.

“It’s hard, because I’m helpless,” Bannick said. “I’ve (administered NARCAN) to a hundred people before and now, I needed it.”

Bannick said she doesn’t remember most of the moments captured on body camera video but chose to release the footage to show the dangerous effects of fentanyl.

“We’re not dealing with pharmaceutical grade fentanyl,” she said. “Every day these street chemists are coming up with something because drug users are building a tolerance to it.”

Now fully recovered, Bannick said she’s thankful for the quick thinking of her fellow officers.

“If I was searching that car alone, or testing those drugs alone, or whatever the case may be and I didn’t have NARCAN available, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here right now,” she said.

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About the Author:

Mark Lehman became a News 6 reporter in July 2014, but he's been a Central Florida journalist and part of the News 6 team for much longer. While most people are fast asleep in their bed, Mark starts his day overnight by searching for news on the streets of Central Florida.