Inquest set in Belle Vernon overdose death
A coroner’s inquest has been scheduled into the death of a Fayette County man who police said was given a fatal injection of heroin.
The September 2013 death of Brian Johnson was initially deemed an accidental overdose, according to a coroner’s report of county deaths for that month.
In October, police alleged Terrence Lee Kelly, 42, injected an overdose of heroin into Johnson’s arm at their Belle Vernon home, threw the syringe into the Monongahela River and then went to a local bar.
Kelly is charged with drug delivery resulting in death, aggravated assault, heroin possession with intent to deliver, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice.
It is District Attorney Jack Heneks’ first attempt at prosecuting the charge of drug delivery resulting in death, which was revamped in recent years.
Dr. Phillip Reilly, the coroner, said it is those changes in the law that prompted the inquest.
He wants to detail to a coroner’s jury how his office investigates such deaths so they can advise as to whether changes are necessary.
“I’m not calling it to make a final resolution,” Reilly said. “It’s to apprise them of the new challenges we will be facing, based in the ramifications of the new law. Should the coroner have a more elaborate cause and manner of death, or should that be left to the criminal justice system?”
The law was amended in 2011 by Gov. Tom Corbett to clarify that drug delivery resulting in death can be prosecuted as third-degree homicide when a person intentionally administers, delivers or prescribes drugs to a person who dies from an overdose.
Southwest Regional Police were tipped off to Johnson’s death and arrived at his Green Street home 5:20 p.m. Sept. 4, 2013, to find him lying dead in a bed and Kelly asleep at the foot of the bed.
The next day, Kelly detailed his actions to police, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
Kelly told police he purchased heroin for himself and Johnson in North Belle Vernon at 8:30 a.m. that day. Kelly said Johnson didn’t typically use heroin or inject drugs and was unable to inject himself.
Kelly told police that he inserted a syringe loaded with two bags of heroin into a vein in Johnson’s left arm and guided him on how to inject it, police wrote in the affidavit.
“The defendant stated that he was nervous about Johnson consuming the drugs because the drugs in question were rumored to be particularly potent,” Lt. Stephen Schwartz wrote in the affidavit.
Kelly used two bags of heroin, he told police, left the home and returned several times before finding Johnson unresponsive.
Kelly told police that he “hesitated” before trying to perform CPR on Johnson, according to the affidavit.
Kelly allegedly flushed the empty heroin bags down the toilet and tossed the syringe he used into the river.
At some point, he went to Just A Tavern, a bar in North Belle Vernon, police said.
There, he spoke to two men who later reported to police that Kelly told them about Johnson’s death.
Shortly after, police found Kelly asleep near Johnson’s body, police said.
Kelly is in the Fayette County Prison in lieu of $75,000 bail. A preliminary hearing before District Judge Richard Kasunic in Perry Township is set for Nov. 20.
Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or email@example.com.