Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Arrest in Fatal Lookalike Drug Case

From The Bethlehem Press: As the opioid crisis continues to take lives at a record pace, a new problem has begun to emerge. Lookalike painkillers. They are designed to look exactly like prescription painkillers like Percocet. They are instead a deadly combination of fentanyl and heroin, or in some cases, pure fentanyl. They kill. On Friday, a person who sold a lethal lookalike was charged with a drug delivery resulting in death 

Lookalike Percocet
Gustavo Rivera, 31, of Bethlehem, has been charged with selling what Kara Ann Heckenberger, 27, thought were Percocet pills. They were in fact a combination of heroin and fentanyl. She died after taking just one of these pills on August 9, 2017.

Heckenberger, Bethlehem Catholic High School and Kutztown University graduate, was no junkie. She had a full-time job and lived with her parents in Lower Nazareth Tp. Though she was a healthy woman, she did suffer from gastroparesis, a painful abdominal condition. Opioids actually worsen this condition. She nevertheless obtained what she thought were two Percocet pills, stamped with a "30" on one side and an "M" on the other.

The "30" refers to 30 milligrams. Assistant DA Bill Blake, who supervises the Northampton County  investigating grand jury, said this is also the cost in dollars for one of these pills, if bought on the street. The "M" is a reference to Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures Percocet.   

Kara Ann Heckenberger
Text messages from Heckenberger's cell phone reveal that the evening before her death, she contacted co-worker Danielle Koehler and Koehler's boyfrend, Rivera, in search of painkillers. Heckenberger was to  deposit the payment in the mailbox at Koehler's E. Ettwein Street home. While she waited at Koehler's  residence, Rivera picked up the money, and later, dropped off the pills.

At 12:36 am on August 9, Rivera texted Heckenberger to ask, "How they make you feel?"

After getting the pills, Heckenberger returned to her parents' home in Lower Nazareth Tp. She had a brief conversation with her mother, then went to bed.

At 10:15 pm, Koehler texted Heckenberger to warn her, "Be careful taking those gus [Gustavo] is messed up." 

Gustavo Rivera
Heckenberger answered, "I only take half at a time & Only when I need them for my stomach. ... I don't take them for the effect of getting f---ed up."

But at 10:42 pm, Heckenberger texted Koehler to say, "S--t Gus [Gustavo] wasn't lying. I only took half of one & I could Probably fall asleep standing up tell him to be careful with Them too."

At 12:36 am on August 9, Rivera texted Heckenberger to ask, "How they make you feel?"

She never answered.

In the meantime, Heckenberger's mother had fallen asleep on the couch and woke up on August 9 at 2:30 am. She decided to check on her daughter before going to bed. Her daughter had turned blue and was non responsive.

Colonial Regional Police arrived as her parents and brother tried to revive her. Emergency medical personnel continued the CPR that had been started by her parents,and relayed data from an AED device to St.Luke's Hospital. The hospital instructed first responders to discontinue CPR, and Heckenberger was pronounced dead at 3:30 am.

Bill Blake and John Morganelli
Police found no evidence of foul play They did find a blue speckled round pill with a "30" on one side and an "M" on the other. This resembles a standard 30 mg Percocet tablet. The pill was inside an unmarked bottle

An autopsy that day revealed that Heckenberger died as a result of  "acute intoxication." Coroner Zach Lysek ruled that the manner of death was accidental. He told the grand jury that Heckenberger's death was a direct result of the fentanyl and heroin in her system.

The pill discovered by police. Forensic analysis revealed that, instead of Percocet, the pill was a combination of heroin and fentanyl. In Mexico, this is called "El Diablito," or the little devil.

Fenanyl is 25 to 40 times more powerful than heroin. It is so strong that the Centers for Disease Control recommends that first responders avoid skin contact. It is cheap to produce, and comes primarily from Mexico and China. It killed 20,000 people last year, including Tom Petty and Prince.

The Northampton County Investigating Grand Jury recommended criminal charges against Rivera, and District Attorney John Morganelli on Friday approved a criminal complaint accusing Rivera of delivery of a controlled substance, delivery of a counterfeit controlled substance and a drug delivery that resulted in the death of another person. All three charges are felonies.

Rivera faces a maximum sentence of 70 years, as well as maximum fines of $500,000

Will Koehler be charged? DA John Morganelli declined comment on that possibility. She did testify before the grand jury, and described the procedure under which Heckenberger deposited money in Koehler's mailbox, which Rivera would then use to buy pills. Once or twice, Koehler admitted that she helped transfer money from Heckenberger to Rivera. Koehler also testified that Rivera admitted to her that he thought he had purchased Percocet pills and that the lookalike she took must have killed her.

Morganelli said the investigation is by no means over. Rivera's cell phone texts reveal that he has a source - "my boy that has em."

What happened to Heckenberger is one of at least three fatal lookalike overdoses over the past year. Two of these occurred in Bethlehem. Assistant DA Bill Blake, who oversees the investigating grand jury, believes there are more.

Morganelli is warning purchasers of illicit street drugs that they may be in "real peril and danger." He urged those with addictions to seek help. "Our goal is to save lives," he said. "Those who are involved in the sale of street drugs do not care about your safety. They care only about their profits."

Addendum: Det. Michael Melinsky of Colonial Regional Police Department arrested Rivera Oct. 29, when he turned himself in. Magisterial District Judge John Capobianco. Bail was set in the amount of $200,000, and Rivera is currently incarcerated at Northampton County jail. Rivera is represented by Scott Wilhelm, a lawyer from Phillipsburg, NJ.


Anonymous said...

Comes from Mexico you say, presumably from the northern border with Canada, eh?

Bernie O'Hare said...

According to my research, Mexico and China are the two main sources of fentanyl.

Anonymous said...

I may have missed something because I am not sure what your point was in saying this victim was not a "junkie". An alcoholic is an alcoholic whether they are employed or not. Her behavior was as sad and dangerous as the "junkie". The combination of prescribed meds mentioned in the newspaper was already problematic and was already taxing her body. To this "old lady" the loss of so many of our people to mood altering substances, prescribed and not prescribed, is so tragic. So many families with empty seats at their holiday tables. The large sums of money to be made by people above the level of the street dealer has woven its way into the very fabric of our society and has poisoned our political system and has both toppled and supported governments across the globe. If the truth ever got out, the average citizen would be astounded to know how some of our wealthiest fund their lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

Mueller gives immunity for the purpose of getting to someone higher up...

Does this not work with distributing harmful medicine?

Instead of free room and board for the next 70 years, give immunity until you get to the source... but then, "the average citizen would be astounded to know how some of our wealthiest fund their lifestyle."

red bokeh society said...

I agree with Anonymous 6:31 Either you or somebody at Express Times went out of their way to say she is not a junkie???? Because she has a job sir????? most crackheads actually have great jobs and SELDOM end up dead. WHY WAS SHE BUYING illegal street pills??? If the pill was a real percocet how can she legally buy it from a non doctor???? isnt that illegal???? How was this not an illicit drug deal set up by Koehler or as conspirator??? Was it not her mailbox the buy money was left in???? How is she off the hook, and would south bethlehem minority teens get this same luxury.

heroin and fetanyl are class one drugs way more lethal than crack or marijuana. yet minorities are always charged lopsided. How is this not a double standard???