Man sentenced to 18 months in jail after 'pinky' drug party killed his friend

A Barrie man is in jail, convicted of manslaughter, after sharing what he thought was cocaine with his friend, leading to her death.

“There’s no great outcome by using illicit drugs that could have something in them,” said defence lawyer Darren Sederoff. “He’s going to jail for 15 months. She’s dead and she was one of his best friends.”

Robert Rodgers, 31, was handed an 18-month sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter a year ago, but received credit for the equivalent of 66 days for pre-sentence custody. The sentence hearing was in February and Justice Jonathan Bliss of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice handed down the sentence, delayed by the pandemic, on Oct 30.

According to Bliss’s written decision, Rodgers purchased $200 of what he thought was cocaine from “Josh," a previous contact, on Aug. 18, 2017 and then went to Darci Beers’s east-end Barrie home where she lived with her three-year-old son.

A downstairs neighbour joined in, but immediately after ingesting the drug sensed something was wrong, describing an extreme burning sensation like “inhaling fire."

He later woke up on the couch with a bowl of vomit next to him. As he ran to the bathroom, he saw Rodgers lying on another couch appearing to be snoring, but he didn’t see Beers, who was 24.

The neighbour then lay on her bed in the bedroom, occasionally getting up to vomit.

He woke up just before 1 p.m. the next day and found Beers lying on the kitchen floor with blood on her face. As he tried to perform CPR he yelled at Rodgers, now lying on the landing between the doorway and the entranceway facing the kitchen, to call 911.

But Rodgers, who had trouble standing, pulled himself along the floor and said he was calling his wife for a ride on his cellphone.

Bliss said Rodgers didn’t call 911. The second man instead ran to another home to call 911 and the neighbours rushed to Beers’s side.

Paramedics determined she was already dead when they arrived.

Police found Rodgers in the front doorway of Beers’s house who told paramedics he felt weak.

It was later determined that Beers had ethanol and U-47700 in her blood, but no cocaine. Although the drug seemed in just about every way to be cocaine, it was actually U-47700, which is a potent, synthetic opioid known to be toxic in small quantities also referred to as 'pink' or 'pinky'.

Three months after Beers’s death and at about the time that Rodgers was charged, Barrie police issued a news release warning of the drug with “an estimated strength equalling 7.5 times the strength of morphine”.

U-47700 was a little known drug at the time. In his decision, Bliss said it was first seen in mid-2017 and the Centre of Forensic Sciences detected it in about 80 cases from June 2017 to November 2018.

In fact, added the defence lawyer, the expert testifying at the preliminary hearing had never previously heard of the drug.

There had been at least one report of it being detected in Canada, according to a bulletin published by the Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use the year before Beers's death and it was suspected to have been involved in several deaths in the United States.

“There does not seem to be any reason why Mr. (neighbour Richard) Pauze and Mr. Rodgers survived while Ms. Beers did not,” Bliss wrote in his decision. “There is a cruelty behind twists of fate that leave loved ones to pick up the pieces of lives shattered by a single fateful act. No sentence that I impose will make up for the loss that Darci’s family and friends feel, nor should the sentence I impose be considered equating with what Darci’s life was worth.

“Watching Mr. Rodgers be confronted by the stark reality of having caused the death of his friend is watching a young man devastated by what he did. His remorse was genuine.”

But, the judge said, that doesn’t change the anger the woman’s family feels toward him and his claim that he was her friend. They saw her as being hurt and vulnerable, trying to cope with her sister’s recent passing, he added.

Rodgers didn’t sample the drug he had purchased before sharing it with the two others and didn’t take any money from them for it.

He later provided police a description of 'Josh' and gave them his phone number, but guessed the name was fake. Police were unable to identify or find 'Josh'.

Rodgers, himself, suffered a stroke as well as a head injury that night and said he lost his job as a result. It was determined that he had had a small brainstem stroke with “fairly extensive changes in the white matter of the brain."

He was initially paralyzed and in a wheelchair, but eventually recovered.

“By the transporting of it (the drug), even sharing is considered trafficking,” said Sederoff, who called 18 months a fair and just sentence. “People should know that even sharing drugs, inherent drugs that are dangerous… if there’s a foreseeability of harm, they could get into serious trouble.

“Mr. Rodgers, law-abiding, working at a car dealership, had no idea and didn’t wish obviously for this to happen at all. But when you’re dealing with drugs that are dangerous, this is a possibility.”

Bliss noted that although Rodgers wasn’t considered an addict, has had a problem with drugs and alcohol in the past, going into detox for a week when he was 18 and attending a support group for an alcohol issue in 2013.

But, added the judge, he hasn’t used drugs or alcohol since Beers’s death.

“Even if his moral blameworthiness is tempered somewhat by the fact he believed he was sharing cocaine and not the deadly U-47700, it could not have been lost on him that cocaine is still a dangerous drug that alone could have been fatal, and, even in 2017, was being adulterated with other drugs with fatal consequences,” concluded Bliss.

Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com