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Autopsy: Lobbyist Fred Leonhardt death accidental from inhalant drug

Longtime Orlando-based lobbyist, attorney and political fundraiser Fred Leonhardt‘s October death was an accident caused by an inhalant drug, according to an autopsy report released Wednesday by the District 9 Office of the Medical Examiner.

Leonhardt, who was 65, died in his home on Oct. 10 of what initially was reported as a probable heart attack. A heart condition contributed to his death, which led to a final event of cardiac arrhythmia, according to the autopsy report. But ethyl chloride toxicity triggered the death, the report says.

“The manner of death is accident,” the report concluded.

For decades, Leonhardt was one of the most prominent and best-known lobbyists and attorneys in the state, as a member and shareholder of the GrayRobinson firm. He also was active in Republican politics, particularly in fundraising.

He was known for being friendly with everyone. “Fred had one of the biggest hearts of anybody, any lawyer within our firm … and he was an incredibly dedicated lawyer with all of our clients,” said Biff Marshall, GrayRobinson’s president and managing shareholder.

The firm put out a statement after the news of the autopsy report:

“We can tell you that he was a beloved and much-valued colleague who will be remembered as a dedicated lawyer and member of the community. His accomplishments are immeasurable and had a lasting impact on the firm.”

The autopsy was performed by Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Lee Utz. According to his report, Leonhardt’s death was caused by ethyl chloride, which is often used as a recreational inhalant drug.

At his home, Orlando police recovered five aerosol bottles of a cleaning solvent that contains ethyl chloride and one bottle of nail polish remover that contains amyl nitrite, another chemical used as an inhalant drug sometimes referred to as “poppers.”

“By investigation, the decedent was known to be inhaling ethyl chloride before being discovered unresponsive. Postmortem toxicology revealed a substance in the decedent’s blood with the same characteristics as those of ethyl chloride in a container recovered from the scene,” the report states.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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