‘Shock mode’ over heroin-linked death in Port Angeles

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

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The last time 19-year-old Ricky Soiseth saw his longtime friend Maceo Niehaus alive, the two were hanging out at the carnival during last weekend’s Sequim Irrigation Festival.

“The last thing I said to him was, ‘I love you, bro,’ and he said it back to me,” Soiseth said in a Thursday interview.

Three days later, the 17-year-old Niehaus, whom Soiseth described as outgoing and active, was dead of a suspected heroin overdose in a home on the 700 block of Ennis Street in Port Angeles.

David Zavodny, 18, of Port Angeles, in whose home police and paramedics found Niehaus dead Tuesday afternoon, is being held in the Clallam County jail for investigation of one count of controlled-substance homicide after allegedly providing the teen with the heroin that may have contributed to his death.

Zavodny, held in lieu of $250,000 bail Thursday, is expected to be charged in Clallam County Superior Court at 1 p.m. today.

According to court documents filed in the case, Zavodny called 9-1-1 Tuesday at 1:48 p.m. after Niehaus had not been breathing for between 40 and 45 minutes.

“I still haven’t cried because I’m still in shock mode,” said Soiseth, adding that he expects many friends to attend a candlelight vigil for Niehaus tonight at 8:30 on Ediz Hook in Port Angeles.

“When they have his funeral, it’s going to be like a president died,” Soiseth said.

Niehaus’ suspected heroin overdose is part of a recent uptick in such emergencies that first-responders in Port Angeles and the North Olympic Peninsula areas have experienced over the past two weeks.

“It’s definitely not typical,” Port Angeles Fire Chief Ken Dubuc said. “It clearly was enough that it came to our attention.”

Brian Smith, deputy police chief, said Port Angeles police and paramedics have responded to five likely heroin overdoses in the past 10 days, including Niehaus’.

Paramedics were able to revive four of the five individuals, Smith said.

Sam Phillips, chief of Clallam County Fire District No. 2, which covers unincorporated Clallam County from roughly Lake Sutherland east to Deer Park Road, said his paramedics have responded to two heroin overdose calls in the past month — both May 11 and in the same apartment complex in the 1800 block of Lauridsen Boulevard.

“We don’t normally go out on heroin overdoses, so it’s a little bit of an uptick for us,” Phillips said.

Phillips said Thursday he did not know if those patients survived, though at least one was transported to Olympic Medical Center.

Law enforcement and health officials across the North Olympic Peninsula see the smaller heroin overdose uptick as a symptom of the drug becoming more available in recent years.

Police Detective Sgt. Jason Viada, supervisor of the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team, which investigates illegal drug delivery in both Clallam and Jefferson counties, said heroin has become the top priority for OPNET’s investigators over the past two years.

“I’ve been very surprised and disappointed at how easy it is to buy heroin in our communities,” Viada said.

“It seems that it’s becoming increasingly available.”

Forks Police Chief Rick Bart said his officers have not seen any heroin overdoses in recent months, though the drug itself has become more available in the city.

“It’s sure really easy to get for some reason,” Bart said Thursday.

Officer Luke Bogues, Port Townsend Police Department spokesman, said his department has not responded to any heroin overdoses recently, though Port Townsend police are “definitely seeing more ­heroin on the streets than the same time last year.”

Dr. Tom Locke, chief medical officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said he does not yet have hard numbers on recent heroin overdoses in the area, though Clallam County has historically had problems with the opiate-based illicit drug.

“In Clallam County especially, we for several years running have had some of the highest rates of opiate-related unintentional deaths in Washington,” Locke said.

The doctor said he suspects the increase in heroin use is due to area doctors and hospitals pulling back from prescribing opiate-based painkillers, such as Vicodin, due to their ability to make people addicted to the drug after overuse.

“As the street supply of the prescription drugs goes down, one unfortunately unintended circumstance is the increase of heroin moving in,” Locke said.

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 16. 2013 6:02PM
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