Two Summit County men indicted following fatal fentanyl overdose
harm prevention in summit county
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A grand jury indicted two Summit County men connected to the fentanyl overdose death of Breckenridge resident Mark Largay. William Walker Lancaster, 27, of Blue River, and Brandon Johnson, 24, of Frisco, were indicted on Feb. 22 and charged with felony manslaughter following Largay’s Nov. 2, 2015 death.
The Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s office reported Johnson sold fentanyl, a potent narcotic, to Largay in the form of a transdermal patch. Johnson faces charges of recklessly causing death and the sale or distribution of more than 14 grams of Fentanyl, a Schedule II controlled substance.
Lancaster, Largay’s housemate, was arrested on Thursday, Feb. 25 after he was indicted on six counts: recklessly causing death, possession and use of a controlled substance (Fentanyl), tampering with evidence, encouraging another person to tamper with evidence and an attempting to influence a public servant.
Lancaster was previously arrested in 2011, after missing U.S. Ski Team gear was found at his residence and in a nearby dumpster.
Each defendant’s bond is set at $25,000.
“There aren’t many cases like this around Colorado. I’ve asked that we try to make these types of cases a high priority,” Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown said. “I think there’s a reluctance to go this route because it requires putting a lot of pieces together.”
He added that assistance from the Summit County Sheriff’s and Coroner’s offices was crucial to putting together the case.
“This will continue to be a focus of Summit County law enforcement, because it puts it in a context everybody can understand — Burying a young man who had a bright future,” Brown said.
COMPILING THE EVIDENCE
Summit County Undersheriff Derek Woodman said the arrest warrant was obtained on Wednesday, and Lancaster was arrested the following day. Though Woodman was not present for the grand jury indictment, he noted that the time-intensive investigation started with Largay’s overdose in November.
“A lot of this came out of when we did our initial investigation on the overdose,” Woodman said. “We had seized some of the items. There were additional search warrants obtained out of the DA’s office.”
According to the indictment, on Nov. 1, 2015, Largay exchanged several text messages with Johnson regarding the purchase of Fentanyl patches. He then traveled to Denver, where Johnson was living, to purchase the substance. At the same time, Lancaster advised him on the terms of the purchase, warning Largay that the price was too ‘steep’ for the amount of drug he was buying.
“He was helping negotiate the terms indirectly by making suggestions to Largay,” Brown said.
Lancaster’s text messages reportedly included advice on how to ingest the fentanyl to maximize the high, even offering to extract the fentanyl from the patches that Largay purchased. He also shared that fentanyl could not be detected by normal 10- or 12-panel drug tests, and offered to share the patches with Largay. At the time, Largay was subject to court-ordered drug testing.
The District Attorney’s office also reported that Lancaster texted Largay, saying he had to be “super-careful” while smoking Fentanyl “because people die that way all the time.”
AN UNTIMELY DEATH
At 5:38 p.m. on Nov. 2, 2015, Largay was pronounced dead after he was found unconscious in his Summit County home. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful, and a death certificate listed the cause of death as respiratory arrest due to fentanyl overdose. A post-mortem blood test indicated the presence of a lethal dose of Fentanyl.
Following Largay’s death, seven used fentanyl patches were found in a garbage can during a search of his residence, shared with Lancaster and one other individual.
In addition, the District Attorney’s office noted that Lancaster asked Largay’s girlfriend to erase text messages between the two of them from Largay’s cell phone. She refused, and the conversation between Largay and the two men was discovered. Under Colorado law, asking another person to erase text messages containing evidence of a crime constitutes felony tampering with evidence.
In an obituary, Largay, age 34, was remembered as “…a gifted and acclaimed glassblower, who had a passion for seeking out new opportunities and adventures throughout the United States…”
He had reportedly opened his own glassblowing studio in Burlington, Vermont, and worked to develop businesses across the state, including in Breckenridge.
“At each stop he made new friends and pursued his love of snowboarding. In Breckenridge, Mark found kindred spirits who supported and encouraged him in his life pursuit of personal fulfillment, peace and happiness,” the obituary continued. “At the end of his life he was finally realizing the fruits of his efforts.”
Largay is survived by his parents, brother and sister of Centerville, Massachusetts.
A NATIONWIDE EPIDEMIC
Largay’s death was one of seven total accidental drug overdose deaths in Summit County last year, according to a Summit County Coroner’s report and one of three linked to fentanyl.
Drug poisoning is the leading cause of accidental death both countywide and in the state of Colorado, outpacing car accidents. The rate of drug poisoning deaths in Colorado outpaced overdose deaths nationwide in 2014. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, statewide, the rate of drug poisoning was 16.3 deaths per 100,000 individuals, and nationwide, it was 14.63 per 100,000 (age-adjusted).
In December 2015, the CDC reported that since 2000 the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137 percent including a 200-percent increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids. The age-adjusted rate of death involving natural and semi-synthetic opioid pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids, other than methadone (fentanyl) increased by 9 percent in 2012, 26 percent in 2013 and 80 percent in 2014.
The CDC and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) also reported the increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids (not methadone) in 2014 coincided with law enforcement reports of a large supply of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and an increase in illegal opioid seizures.
“(Fentanyl) has existed and we’ve had overdoses in the past,” Woodman said. “It’s not a prevailing drug of choice. There are a lot of others that are easier to acquire and easier to administer.”
While it was possible to manufacture fentanyl, the drug is prescribed in patches to individuals reporting high levels of pain, and must be “extracted” and turned into a liquid form before it can be injected.
“I think there’s a very high opportunity for abuse, and if you’re not clear on exactly what you’re doing, this can be the result,” he added.
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