Summit County fentanyl overdose trial centers on deleted text messages
A slate of deleted text messages has become a focal point in the manslaughter trial of Will Lancaster, who prosecutors say was complicit in the 2015 fentanyl overdose death of Mark Largay because the two had discussed the drug’s pricing and dosage before he ingested a fatal amount.
Lancaster never handled the drugs and was downstairs when Largay overdosed. He carried out CPR while waiting for paramedics to arrive, although they were ultimately unable to save Largay.
If convicted of manslaughter, Lancaster could face two to six years in prison. He is also charged with several lesser crimes, including evidence tampering and drug offenses.
The defense, however, has zeroed in on the admission of Largay’s former therapist and girlfriend at the time, Liz Crandall. She testified this week that she deleted photos and text messages between the two of them in which Largay said he was suicidal on multiple occasions. According to testimony, those may have changed the way the investigation into Largay’s death was conducted. It was ruled accidental before the messages surfaced.
One of the deleted messages was sent the day before he died, and in another, several weeks earlier, he threatened to intentionally overdose on heroin.
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Crandall was Largay’s therapist while he was in the Summit County drug court treatment program, although she had changed positions and was not treating him at the time of their relationship, she said.
She had concealed that relationship from her employer, Mind Springs Health, but was terminated after some of her belongings were found in Largay’s room after he died.
Crandall was the only person who knew the passcode for Largay’s phone. She said that Lancaster asked her to delete any texts between him and Largay, which aroused her suspicion.
That allegation is the basis for the evidence tampering charges against Lancaster. Crandall is not being charged with a crime, though she said she did delete items from the phone.
After seeing the texts with Lancaster and Johnson, Crandall said, she went to Largay’s home near Blue River, where she found a trash bag in the kitchen containing fentanyl patches. She handed over the phone and trash bag to Largay’s attorney, JB Katz, who delivered them to the Summit County Coroner’s Office.
The coroner would later turn those items over to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, which opened a criminal investigation into Lancaster and Brandon Johnson, who is accused of selling the drugs to Largay. Johnson is still awaiting trial.
It wasn’t until after police extracted the data from Largay’s phone during the investigation that they found deleted texts he had sent to Crandall threatening to take his own life.
During testimony, Crandall said she chose not to report the threats or tell investigators about them after Largay’s death because she didn’t think they were credible.
“I don’t know why I deleted those, I really don’t, other than I was told by JB that the phone was going immediately to (Largay’s) parents and I didn’t want them to know he was dating his former therapist,” she said in court.
Silverthorne police officer and computer forensics expert Rich Watson testified that he recovered more than 1,000 deleted texts from the phone, although it was unclear during trial how many were between Largay and Crandall.
Watson noted that the data recovery was only partial, and there was also no way to tell when the messages were deleted.
Largay’s death was never investigated as a suicide and was ruled accidental in December, Summit County Coroner Regan Wood testified. A toxicology report found that he had more than five times the lethal dose of the powerful synthetic opioid in his system.
Wood said that had her office been aware of possible suicidal tendencies, that “would have changed the scope of the investigation.”
Under questioning by Brown, Wood said that the death investigation was closed on Dec. 21, over a month before the District Attorney’s Office got involved in late January the next year.
Neither the Summit County Sheriff’s Office nor the coroner conducted a thorough search of Largay’s home immediately after his death, and the patches may not have been found if Crandall hadn’t viewed the fentanyl texts.
Katz said on Thursday that she alerted the Summit County Sheriff’s Office to the bag of patches but was referred to the coroner because there was no active criminal investigation. Katz later met Wood in a parking lot in Silverthorne and handed over the items, which were eventually turned over to the sheriff’s office along with Largay’s phone.
Katz said that she never saw any messages about suicide, but if she did she “would have called those texts to the coroner’s attention.”
The trial is set to conclude on Friday.
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