By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

Man died of Benadryl overdose in Bard


February 23, 2022

An Oklahoma man whose body was found near an Interstate 40 frontage road in September in eastern Quay County died of an accidental overdose of Benadryl, according to New Mexico State Police investigation reports.

The body of Travis Villella, 30, of Norman, Oklahoma, was found Sept. 6 near an abandoned post office and store in the settlement of Bard. New Mexico State Police issued a news release last month, stating the state medical examiner’s office had identified the man and that no foul play had occurred.

The Quay County Sun found more details about the circumstances of Villella’s death through an open-records request of the New Mexico State Police investigation.

Villella’s brother and his mother told state police that Villella had confided to using large doses of Benadryl to get high and experience hallucinations. Benadryl, which contains an active ingredient of diphenhydramine, is an over-the-counter antihistamine drug used to treat allergies.

A Jan. 12 autopsy of Villella’s body in Albuquerque determined he died from the toxic effects of diphenhydramine, which a medical examiner concluded was an accidental overdose.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 4, Villella left voicemails to his mother and brother where he apparently was outdoors by himself, slurring his words and speaking incoherently.

New Mexico State Police agent Kenny Villarreal noted in his report an overdose of Benadryl can cause seizures, decreased breathing and abnormal and fatal heart rhythms.

“I concluded this was a tragic accident and observed no evidence of a crime being committed upon Travis Villella,” he wrote.

Dr. Darrell Willis, medical director at Trigg Memorial Hospital in Tucumcari, stated through a spokeswoman’s email he has practiced medicine for 30 years and never has witnessed a Benadryl overdose.

Lina Bellenir, Villella’s aunt who lives in Arizona, said she was saddened to hear of his “inappropriate use of Benadryl.”

“I caution all parents to be aware of what their children are utilizing to in order to get high,” she said. “It was a tragedy that should have been avoided, and hopefully his passing will bring awareness of this horrible drug situation that has enveloped our country.”

The autopsy also was used to help identify Villella, whose body was in a state of decomposition. Dental records and two tattoos also were used to help identify him.

The autopsy found bruising on the back of Villella’s head, but the medical examiner determined it wasn’t enough to cause death or serious injury. No other injuries were found.

Several family members on social media had expressed concern about Villella possibly being murdered or kidnapped shortly after his disappearance. His last voicemails left the impression of a fight or struggle. The Bethany, Oklahoma, Police Department listed him as missing and endangered on Sept. 2.

A receipt from a Taco Bell in Amarillo printed on the night of Sept. 3 was found in Villella’s car. State police reviewed surveillance camera footage from the restaurant at that time and found Villella was in his car by himself and looked calm as he used the drive-through window to get food.

Villella apparently left Oklahoma after an argument with one of his girlfriends, one whom said it wasn’t unusual for him to take random road trips without anyone else knowing about them.

A couple driving from Arizona to Washington, D.C., stopped in Bard on Sept. 6 to let their dogs relieve themselves. After one of the dogs began chasing a rabbit, the woman saw a body lying in tall grass and weeds. It was about 100 yards from a parked and unoccupied Volkswagen car, later identified as Villella’s. Several residents of the Bard area also reported seeing the car there the morning of Sept. 4.


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