Five teenagers charged with murder in Woodbury drug overdose

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 30, 2014 - 9:56 AM

Angered by Woodbury girl’s synthetic LSD death, prosecutor called case “a message” to drug suppliers.

Five teenagers who prosecutors say were part of a Washington County drug-dealing chain were charged with murder Wednesday in the overdose death of a Woodbury girl.

Tara Fitzgerald, 17, died Jan. 11, just hours after taking a synthetic tablet that was marketed as LSD. It was provided to her and a girlfriend by one of the defendants.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput vowed Wednesday that the charges, which stemmed from tracing the drugs “up the distribution chain,” were a warning to drug dealers everywhere.

“We think there’s a moral obligation to keep kids free of drugs,” said Orput, visibly angry at the ongoing exchanges of deadly controlled substances throughout the metro area. “We’re sending a message that suppliers will be held fully to account.”

Just hours after charges were filed, Tara Fitzgerald’s parents spoke of their grief and all that they lost that winter night when their daughter’s sleepover with a friend turned into a tragedy.

Tom Fitzgerald said he and his wife, Mai Hoang Fitzgerald, are reminded daily of their loss when they go to the family mailbox to find more college recruitment letters addressed to their daughter, who was an honor student.

“The tragedy’s always there, but it’s accentuated every day,” Tom Fitzgerald said, struggling to understand how Tara, a happy overachiever, could have taken a synthetic drug. “The loss is so completely devastating that I don’t know how we’ll get over this.”

Alarm is increasing

Charged with third-degree murder in Tara Fitzgerald’s death were Sydney Claire Johnson, Alistair Curtis Berg and Brian Phillip Norlander, all 17 and of Woodbury; Cole Alexander Matenaer, 19, also of Woodbury, and Alexander Lee Claussen, 19, of St. Cloud. The murder charges relate to the sale and distribution of controlled substances.

Johnson, Berg and Norlander also face a second felony charge — sale of dangerous drugs to someone under 18.

Orput said the three 17-year-olds will be certified as adults in court.

The charges reflect the growing alarm among law officers that the dealing of dangerous drugs, especially to youths, has reached crisis proportions in Washington County, across the metro area and elsewhere in Minnesota. Drug sales often are being negotiated through social media and can become pathways to the use of heroin — often with deadly consequences.

In the first quarter of 2014, six Washington County residents died of overdoses, Sheriff Bill Hutton said. Another six died last year.

“This is getting to be almost epidemic,” Hutton said. “At some point people need to stand up and say this is enough.”

Said Orput: “When an illegal drug enters our community, all of those involved — those who create it, sell it or give it away — are responsible for what happens with that drug. We are especially concerned with those individuals who distribute illegal drugs to juveniles. We will prosecute those individuals to the full extent of what the law allows.”

The drug that killed Fitzgerald, the Ramsey County medical examiner’s office determined, was a synthetic known clinically as 25i-NBOMe.

The hallucinogenic drug is referred to on the streets as “N-Bomb.” It is sold in unpredictable strengths and can inflict serious damage, including heart failure and bleeding on the brain. The autopsy found that Fitzgerald died from complications of 25i-NBOMe toxicity.

According to the criminal complaint:

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  • TARA FITZGERALD, 17: Died Jan. 11 after taking a synthetic drug known as “N-Bomb.”

  • Matenaer

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  • Washington County Attorney Pete Orput

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