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5 charged in synthetic drug death of 17-year-old

  • Article by: AMY FORLITI
  • Associated Press
  • May 28, 2014 - 4:55 PM

MINNEAPOLIS — Five teens, including three high school students, have been charged with murder in connection with the January death of a 17-year-old girl who ingested a synthetic drug she purchased from a classmate, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Tara Fitzgerald died Jan. 11 after she and a friend took a substance similar to acid or LSD, prosecutors said. Authorities said a St. Cloud man initially sold the drug to a Woodbury man toward the end of last year, and then it was sold from one Woodbury High School student to the next before it was purchased by the victim about a week before she died.

At least one transaction occurred in the school in the suburb of St. Paul, before first period, the criminal complaint said.

"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," Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said in a statement. "We are especially concerned with those individuals who distribute illegal drugs to juveniles."

Barbara Brown, a spokeswoman for South Washington County Schools, said school officials recognize there are issues, and the district is working on reinforcing smart choices for students.

"This is truly a community conversation," she said.

According to the complaint, the drug in Fitzgerald's system was identified as 25i-NBOMe. It was sold as a square piece of pink paper, wrapped in aluminum foil.

Fitzgerald's friend told police that the pair thought the drug was LSD. After they dissolved it on their tongues, Fitzgerald began moaning and appeared to be experiencing muscle spasms or shaking. Fitzgerald's friend thought something was wrong and called another girl, who came over to Fitzgerald's house, the complaint said. But authorities weren't called until nearly nine hours later, after the friend called her own parents when she couldn't wake Fitzgerald.

The defendants include two 19-year-olds, charged as adults, and three 17-year-olds, who all attend Woodbury High School and are charged as juveniles. All five face third-degree murder charges.

Prosecutors say Alexander Claussen, 19, of St. Cloud, sold the drug to Cole Matenaer, 19, of Woodbury, late last year. It then passed from one teen to another.

Authorities arrested Matenaer in January and found 34 doses of the drug in his vehicle, the complaint said.

Police used Matenaer's phone records to locate Claussen. After a confidential informant bought the drug from Claussen, authorities searched his residence and found 305 doses of the drug, the complaint said.

Online court records do not list attorneys for Claussen or Matenaer. The voicemail box at the phone number believed to belong to Claussen's parents was full and a message could not be left. A message left with Claussen's father's workplace was not immediately returned. Phone numbers for Matenaer's relatives were not immediately available.

According to telephone calls between Matenaer and others while he was in jail, Matenaer admitted he sold drugs and said, "it's my fault."

Orput said authorities are still trying to determine where Claussen got the drug.

Adam Pederson, prevention program director for Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, said a survey of high school students around the state shows synthetic drug use among teens has gone up in the last year.

Out of 15,000 high school students surveyed in this school year, 26 percent said they have used illegal drugs. Of those, 15 percent said they used synthetics, Pederson said.

That's up from the 2012-2013 school year, when 23 percent of the 18,000 high school students surveyed said they had used illegal drugs. Nine percent of those users had said they abused synthetics.

"We can't do anything on the demand side, but we can on the supply side," said Orput, the prosecutor. "We need parents to step up and help us here because this is getting awful."

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