Summit County manslaughter trial connects lethal fentanyl overdose to defendant
May 3, 2017
On the evening of Nov. 2, 2015, Will Lancaster emerged from the shower to find his friend, Mark Largay, unresponsive in his room upstairs. Lancaster immediately tried to revive Largay and then called 911, but paramedics were unable to save him.
Largay died in an ambulance north of Blue River as a Flight for Life helicopter sat waiting on Highway 9. His cause of death was later ruled an overdose on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is far more potent than heroin.
A grand jury indicted Lancaster the next year on charges including manslaughter. Brandon Johnson, who allegedly sold Largay the drugs, was charged separately and is currently awaiting trial.
On the first day of oral arguments in Lancaster's trial on Wednesday, District Attorney Bruce Brown did not introduce evidence indicating that Lancaster arranged the sale, nor that he handled the drugs or was present when Largay is believed to have ingested the fatal dose.
Rather, the manslaughter charge stems from text messages Largay sent Lancaster the day before asking about pricing and dosage, which Brown said made him complicit in the sale.
In the texts, Lancaster provided advice and also told him that inhaling the vapors from heated patches was effective but potentially lethal.
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"Lancaster consciously disregarded a risk," Brown said during opening statements. "He recognized the risk — he said 'this can kill you' — yet he promoted Mr. Largay to go forward, an act that resulted in his death."
The prosecution also alleges that Lancaster asked Largay's girlfriend to delete those texts after the incident, additionally charging him with evidence tampering, attempting to influence a public servant, solicitation of a person to commit a crime and drug offenses.
During opening remarks, the defense described Lancaster as someone who did everything he could to save his friend from his own choices.
"Nothing Will did caused Mark's death," defense attorney Stacey Shobe said. "He told him multiple times that people died that way all the time. What he didn't do is put fentanyl in Mark's hand, didn't drive down to Denver with Mark (to buy the drugs). … Only one person is responsible for the death of Mark Largay, and that is Mark Largay."
There was no initial police investigation on the night of Largay's death. His cause of death wasn't immediately clear, but paramedics administered an opioid overdose reversal drug, Narcan, in part because Lancaster told them that Largay had a history of drug abuse.
He was cooperative with police but didn't mention the recent texts about fentanyl, according to testimony from a sheriff's deputy.
"This is an important statement because it is a false statement," Brown said during trial. "And when he makes it, he knows it is false."
A paramedic testified that this omission didn't affect their treatment of Largay because they administered Narcan anyway.
Police initially closed the matter, but according to testimony the case took an unconventional turn from a medical to a criminal investigation the next day.
Largay's girlfriend at the time, Liz Crandall, said Wednesday that Lancaster told her to delete texts from him on Largay's phone, which was locked and in the possession of attorney JB Katz, who handled Largay's finances. Katz hasn't testified yet.
Crandall said that she didn't think her boyfriend had overdosed until she unlocked the phone at Katz's Breckenridge law offices and saw the texts between Largay and Lancaster.
"I remember looking at (Katz) and saying, 'Oh my god, I know how Mark died,'" Crandall said on the stand. "I then believed that it could have been an overdose."
Crandall said that she and Katz then met at Largay's house, which was empty at the time. There, she said, she found a bag that appeared to be from Largay's room in the kitchen trash can. It contained several fentanyl patches, tin foil and a straw made out of a pen used for inhaling the fumes.
Katz then brought those items and Laragy's phone to then-deputy coroner Mark Juisto, according to Juisto's earlier testimony on Wednesday. He handed them over to investigators from the sheriff's office, he said.
During Crandall's cross-examination, the longest of the day, the defense appeared to be laying the groundwork for another possible theory: that Largay had taken his own life because of relationship troubles.
During cross, Shobe introduced texts between Crandall and Largay that she had deleted. They showed that on at least three occasions he had threatened to take his own life.
When asked why she hadn't reported those threats or later told investigators about them, Crandall said she hadn't thought they were credible.
"This was a pattern of Mark's where when he didn't like (how things were going) or if I wanted to get out of the relationship he would say those things to get me to stay," she said.
The trial is set to continue until Friday.
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