DA: No charges in death of man high on bath salts

Criminal charges will not be filed in the case of a 19-year-old Grand Junction man who was high on bath salts, and acting violently at a party last April, when he was strangled to death by a friend who tried to subdue him, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said.

“If I had a situation where somebody was putting a choke hold on someone else who wasn’t being violent or tweaked out on drugs, we’d certainly be looking at manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide,” Hautzinger told a press conference at the Mesa County Justice Center this morning, explaining his non-charging decision in the investigation of the April 10 incident that led to the death of Daniel J. Richards.

Richards’ death was believed to be the first in western Colorado linked to bath salts, stimulants which were made criminal to possess or sell in Colorado just last month.

“In this case, I can’t say there was anything reckless or negligent about trying to get this person under control,” the DA added.

An investigation showed Richards had purchased “several hundreds of dollars” worth of synthetic cathinones, or “bath salts,” prior to attending a house party on April 10, accompanied by roughly nine or 10 others peers ages 18 to 20.

“At one point early on in the party, Daniel becomes uncontrollable and very violent,” Hautzinger said. Witnesses said Richards at one point tried to punch the homeowner, while later pulling a knife described around roughly 12 inches long, the DA and Grand Junction police investigators said.

Richards was taken to the ground by a friend, “with the assistance of one or two people,” who applied something of a choke hold around Richards’ neck, Hauzinger said.

“He appears to calm down, his friends release him and all of sudden (Richards) jumps up and starts to fight again,” the DA said.

Richards was taken down a second time by friends who again applied pressure around the boy’s neck. Witnesses reported Richards, “appeared to go to sleep,” Hautzinger said.

After approximately 15 minutes of being non-responsive, Richards’ friends decided to rush him to St. Mary’s Hospital, where he died the next day.

The Mesa County Coroner’s office ruled the death a homicide and said it was caused by strangulation. A toxicology report showed the presence of marijuana, a blood-alcohol level of 0.067 percent, in addition to Alpha-PVP, one of several synthetic bath salt compounds.

Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper said an exhaustive investigation, which sifted through a host of “allegations and rumors,” found there was no criminal intent to cause Richards’ death.

“It’s a real tragedy and one so easily prevented,” Camper said. “The effect of this drug in many cases is worse than methamphetamine and cocaine.”

The bath salt compound identical to that found in Richards’ system was banned last month — possession is now a misdemeanor — under legislation signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Several retailers suspected of selling the products in the past received warning letters last week from Mesa County authorities, threatening enforcement action if the products remain available.

“Our follow-ups indicate those retailers are complying with the law,” Camper said.

Hautzinger told the press conference Richards’ family was upset with the non-charging decision.

Read the full story in Wednesday’s Daily Sentinel.


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