The Washington County, Minnesota, Attorney’s Office announced on Wednesday that they have filed charges against five people for third-degree murder related to the sale and distribution of controlled substances in the synthetic drug overdose death of 17-year-old Tara Fitzgerald. Of the five teens charged, two are juveniles who will stand trial as adults. The defendants are identified as Alistair Berg, 17, Alexander Claussen, 19, Sydney Johnson, 17, Cole Matenaer, 19, and Brian Norlander, 17. All charged are from Woodbury with the exception of Claussen, who hails from St. Cloud. Berg and Norlander are also each facing an additional felony charge for selling dangerous drugs to someone under 17.
The criminal murder charges follow an incident that took place on Jan. 11, 2014, at 9:10 a.m. in which emergency responders in Woodbury responded to a report of a 17-year-old Woodbury girl who had taken a type of hallucinogenic drug comparable to LSD or acid during a sleepover and was unresponsive. First responders, arriving at her parents’ home on Commonwealth Avenue, rushed Fitzgerald to St. Paul’s Regions Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. An investigation conducted jointly by the Woodbury Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office determined that the drug that killed Fitzgerald was a synthetic drug known as 25i-MBOMe and classified as a controlled substance. Her death, according to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner, was due to complications from the toxicity of 25i-NBOMe.
The drug had passed through the hands of all five people now charged with murder before it ended up in the possession of Fitzgerald. Claussen, who was the main supplier and had 305 doses of the synthetic drug in his home, initially sold the drug to Matenaier, who in turn sold the drug to Johnson. Johnson then sold the drug to Berg, who sold it to Norlander. Although it was Norlander to delivered the drug to Fitzgerald, all those in the chain are deemed responsible. According to Washington County Attorney Pete 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.” He went on to say that, “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.”
Washington County was the scene of six overdoses last year. Orput himself has taken a strong stance on those who are responsible and has prosecuted third-degree murder charges in three overdoses within the past two years. He believes that a new drug problem has popped up in this upper-class suburb of St. Paul and that Fitzgerald was one more victim.
Fitzgerald, a junior at Woodbury High School, is remembered as a very good student who excelled at her SAT, loved to make funny videos, and was a huge Harry Potter fan. Her softball coach, Bill Hedahl, remembers that “she was not a big party girl.” He describes her as a “leader” who was “special.” According to her obituary, Fitzgerald was proud of her Irish Catholic/Vietnamese heritage and favored the Beatles and Oasis instead of current pop music.
By Jennifer Pfalz