Police are investigating whether a 17-year-old Woodbury teen died Saturday of a drug overdose — and who, if anyone, might be charged with murder for supplying the drugs.
First responders were called at 9:10 a.m. to a home on Commonwealth Avenue, just off Radio Drive on the city’s south side, on a report of an unresponsive girl, said Michelle Okada, a spokeswoman for Woodbury police.
That home, in the 3400 block, was where Tara Fitzgerald lived with her parents. She was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where she was pronounced dead at 10:18 a.m., according to police and the Ramsey County medical examiner’s office.
The death is being eyed as a potential overdose death, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said.
Two 17-year-old boys and an 18-year-old man from Woodbury were arrested on suspicion of third-degree murder and taken to the Washington County jail, Okada said. They were released pending charges.
If someone gives another drugs and that person dies as a result, it could be considered third-degree murder, Orput said.
Toxicology tests on Fitzgerald, who attended Woodbury High School, are pending. That can take six to eight weeks, so the cause and manner of death have not yet been determined.
‘We’ve got to stop this scourge’
Investigators are trying to determine what she ingested and where she got it, Orput said. He said he’s not certain how many suspects might be involved in this case. He declined to discuss details of the probe while charges are pending.
“It’s an ongoing investigation, and we’re trying to roll up as many people as we can,” Orput said. “Right now, it’s big and getting bigger. I want it to get as big as we can possibly get it only because we’ve got to stop this scourge in the county.
“Right now, we’re trying to track down, if there is anything, where it came from, who distributed it and I want to go all the way up the tree to the top branch,” Orput said.
“If there was an overdose, or there was a death due to drugs, where did the drugs come from? And not just, ‘Joe handed it to Steve.’ I want to know where Joe got it from, and I want to know where that guy got it from, and I want to know where everybody got it from, so I can reach back to find out who’s distributing this stuff, and wring their damn neck.”
His office has been hitting such fatal overdose prosecutions hard in the last couple of years with three third-degree murder cases wending their way through the courts in other overdoses.
Last year, six people died of overdoses in Washington County, Orput said.
In a recent case, a 22-year-old Oakdale woman, Emily Frye, pleaded guilty in November to third-degree murder for giving a man methadone that killed him. She’s to be sentencing Feb. 22 for the death of Frank Eck of Scandia in August 2012.
Two Woodbury investigators and a Washington County prosecutor are being assisted by Washington County sheriff’s investigators and another prosecutor in the Fitzgerald case, which is getting high priority.
“It’s a terrible situation when we have the death of a young person,” Okada said.
“Any time we have a seemingly healthy young person pass away, it is suspicious. Folks were arrested, and charges are pending. They were released pending further investigation. Really, we’re just trying to put all the pieces together while being considerate of the family and those involved that are mourning the death of a 17-year-old young woman.”
Funeral is Saturday
Fitzgerald’s obituary calls her “a talented artist and musician” who loved to skateboard and make funny faces. She was the daughter of Mai and Thomas Fitzgerald, who could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
“Under these tragic circumstances, we all grieve the loss of a young life and ask for prayer for Tara and her grieving family,” said the Rev. Thomas Walker, who will preside over the funeral at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Ambrose of Woodbury Catholic Church.
Heroin, methadone and prescription drugs are the “top three killers of kids in this county,” but now, synthetic drugs are causing problems that are certain to escalate, Orput said.
Authorities don’t suspect opioids in the Woodbury teen’s death but are eyeing other possible drugs.
“These are so heartbreaking; they’re awful,” Orput said of the overdose cases. “It makes me glad I’m a prosecutor. I can do something about it, a little bit. But it’s always too late. ”