Region's heroin overdose death count now at 23 so far this year
By Joe Beck
HARRISONBURG -- Law enforcement's spotlight shone harshly Wednesday in U.S. District Court as one Stephens City man and a couple from Strasburg were sentenced to long stays in prison for using and selling heroin in the area.
Dean Allen Roberson of Stephens City received the longest sentence of 15 years, plus five years probation on one count of causing bodily injury through distribution of heroin and one count of distribution and possession of methamphetamine.
Later in the day, Judge Michael F. Urbanski sentenced Dwayne Thomas Fletcher of Strasburg to seven years and three months in prison and Megan Marie Wooddell, also of Strasburg, to five years in prison. Fletcher's sentence included five years probation and Wooddell received four years probation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Wright said in a sentencing memorandum that Roberson was "well-positioned" to receive a significant break in sentencing after his arrest on methamphetamine charges. Roberson subsequently cooperated with law enforcement in several state investigations, which led prosecutors to consider him a good candidate for a reduction in the sentence they would recommend, Wright said.
But on March 21, Roberson sold heroin to a woman in Stephens City, Wright said. His guilty plea to the ensuing heroin charge ruined his chance for a much more lenient sentence than the 15 years he received.
In a late afternoon news conference held to discuss the cases of Roberson, Fletcher and Wooddell, U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy said the woman who bought heroin from Roberson would have died if a paramedic had not given her Narcan, a drug used to counter the effects of heroin overdoses.
Heaphy said all three cases fit a familiar pattern of Shenandoah Valley residents traveling hundreds of miles to big cities to buy heroin and then returning home and distributing the drug to customers in and around their communities.
Heaphy stood next to a poster listing deaths and injuries from heroin as of Aug. 22 in Winchester and the five counties encompassing the jurisdiction of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force. It showed 23 deaths, two more than the 21 recorded for all of 2013. The figures were an updated and revised version of data presented Tuesday night before the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors. That presentation showed 22 deaths so far in 2014.
"This is really discouraging, and the goal is to trim the list," Heaphy said, referring to the poster.
While Roberson traveled to Baltimore to acquire the near-fatal heroin given to the overdose victim, Fletcher and Wooddell went to Philadelphia several times to obtain heroin before bringing it back to Strasburg.
At Fletcher and Wooddell's sentencing hearings, Wright accused them of bringing more than 400 grams of heroin to Strasburg, enough for 8,000 doses or more than one per resident.
"That was an extraordinary amount of heroin to bring to this area, Strasburg in particular," Wright told Urbanski.
Court documents say Fletcher and Wooddell bought and sold heroin between December 2012 and July 2013 and traveled at least weekly to Philadelphia for at least four to six months.
Wright described both defendants as addicts and said Wooddell revived Fletcher from at least one overdose.
Wright cited Wooddell's acceptance of responsibility, valuable information she gave to law enforcement, and prompt signing of a plea agreement as reasons for recommending a lighter sentence. Wright also described Wooddell's role as secondary to Fletcher, who gave her much of the heroin they obtained for her own use.
"She knew completely what they were doing, and she facilitated this, but Mr. Fletcher was more heavily involved," Wright said.
Wright said she had "great concerns in terms of highlighting that (Fletcher) and Ms. Wooddell knew the dangers" of heroin from their harrowing experiences as addicts, but continued using it and selling it to others.
Both defendants have also been convicted of previous drug offenses. Fletcher was on probation for earlier crimes in Shenandoah County at the time of his arrest. Wooddell was participating in a drug diversion program on charges involving dilaudid and hydromorphone. She was sentenced in Clarke County on Aug. 19.
Wooddell's mother, Goldie Calvin of Strasburg, described her daughter as "a wonderful person" and said she felt that she had "failed as a parent."
"This all happened under my nose, and I did not see it," Calvin told Urbanski from the witness stand.
Urbanski said he was encouraged that Wooddell, 27, had obtained an associate degree from Lord Fairfax Community College and spent a year at the University of Alaska working on a degree in wildlife management. But then she returned to Strasburg and sank into the drug addiction and dealing that led to her sentencing.
Urbanski urged Wooddell to take advantage of treatment programs for mental health disorders and addiction during her prison term.
But he also called her decision to involve herself in heroin dealing as a crime too serious to ignore.
"While you and Mr. Fletcher are away, at least one source of heroin in the area is gone," Urbanski said. "It's off the street."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org