It started as a celebration of new life for a Coon Rapids family, but the next morning the expectant father was found dead in his bed.
Eric J. Simco, 26, and his fiancée were partying with family and friends in anticipation of the son they expected to be born the next morning, family members said. "He was so excited to see the baby," said his fiancée, Stephanie Scherrer, 21. "He was getting ready to buy a house and set it up for me and the baby."
Simco, who cleaned cars at ABC Auction in Dayton, never awoke the next day, when a healthy Eric Jr. was born. After induced labor, he weighed in at nearly 7 pounds the evening of July 28. "He never got to hold his baby," Scherrer said this week, cradling her son at Simco's parents' home in Coon Rapids.
The Anoka County medical examiner's office recently released autopsy results that show Simco died accidentally from a "mixed drug" overdose, said Lt. Paul Sommer of the Sheriff's Office.
People at the party told police that Simco had been drinking beer and taking painkillers, including oxycodone and several pills of a morphine-like narcotic a friend gave him.
Assistant County Attorney Nancy Norman said this week she is reviewing the case for possible charges against the friend.
Scherrer said her fiancé took painkillers when he had hip pain from a car accident that happened a few years ago. The pain had flared up so bad that night that he could hardly walk, she said. She knew he was taking more drugs than he should.
"He said he just wanted to party one last night and then he was going to quit drinking and the drugs," she said. "I was not happy about it."
Simco, who attended Coon Rapids High School, also was taking valium, an anti-anxiety drug, for effects of the accident that shattered his pelvis, Scherrer noted. Because of his injuries, "The doctors said we might never have kids, so this is a miracle baby," she said.
Police were called to the home about 6:30 a.m. on July 28 after Scherrer couldn't wake her fiancé. Simco's sister, Sonja Bones, said she tried but could not resuscitate her brother.
The family has grown closer dealing with the loss, but struggles with anger about his death. Scherrer and Theresa Milligan, 31, Simco's older sister, said they don't blame the friend who gave Eric some painkillers.
Scherrer has good and bad days, but Eric Jr. smiles and laughs at her, just like his dad did. "If not for the baby it would be worse," she said. She displayed the baseball outfit her son was wearing with a ball and "Dad's Team" emblazoned on his shirt. She said Eric Jr. wore the outfit at his father's funeral.
"We are angry with the situation," Scherrer said, "that it happened the same day I delivered."
Simco was close to several nephews, who still cry about his loss and are getting counseling, their moms said. Tanner, 4, talks about his uncle, saying "Uncle Eric is in heaven with Jesus," said his mother, Bones, 25.
Simco was a boisterous guy who sported a tattoo, and eyebrow rings and a pierced lip, his sisters said. They said he loved hunting, fishing and riding off-road vehicles. He always wanted people to have fun and he did crazy things: One St. Patrick's Day he spray-painted his hair green. It was so hard to remove the paint that he settled for a dyed-red Mohawk for last year's St. Pat's, Scherrer said.
"He was a good-hearted and loving boy," said his mom, Bonita Simco. "If he was shopping and saw something he thought I'd like, he bought it. He bought roosters for a joke, to laugh about it." She said he had started turning his life around and was trying to finish high school.
He also was looking forward to fatherhood, his fiancée said. He put up a crib and installed smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors the couple bought for the baby.
The reality of what happened is sinking in for Scherrer.
"For a long time, I liked to imagine he was on a trip to Arizona or somewhere and he will walk through that door any day," she said. "I finally realize that he is not coming home."
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report. Jim Adams • 612-673-7658