Erica Sierra Haas was sentenced to an active prison term of six to eight years following her conviction for involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy to traffick heroin during Caldwell County Superior Court on Monday, June 3, 2019.
The Honorable Louis A. Trosch, Superior Court Judge from Mecklenburg County, imposed the prison term for Haas after she pleaded guilty to the crimes. The defendant will spend her period of incarceration in custody of the North Carolina Division of Adult Corrections.
Haas, 24, of Lenoir, was arrested by officers from Lenoir Police Department on July 9, 2018, in connection with the overdose death of Hannah Marie Kincaid, who was found dead after ingesting a lethal amount of cyclopropyl fentanyl, an altered form of fentanyl, on May 1, 2018.
The conviction came after LPD Sgt. John Howard and Cpl. Stephen Raby of the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office turned over their findings to the District Attorney’s Office at the end of a joint investigation by the two agencies.
“I am proud of the hard work Sgt. Howard and Cpl. Raby have put into this investigation on behalf of our departments and for the family of the victim in this case,” LPD Chief Brent Phelps said. “Without their hard work and the hard work of the District Attorney’s office, this outcome would not be possible.”
Caldwell County Sheriff Alan Jones added, “These guys have put a lot of hard work into this, a lot of time and effort. The DA’s Office has worked really well with us and done a great job helping out. The cooperation between agencies has been wonderful. I couldn’t be more pleased. The coordination between us and Lenoir has been fantastic,”
Howard and Raby initiated their investigation in June 2018, identifying Kelvis Blake Dula as a suspect in a methamphetamine trafficking case. Dula disclosed information linking Haas as a source of drug distribution.
Further investigation revealed that Haas was going outside of Caldwell County to get the cyclopropyl fentanyl from another supplier and then distributing the toxic drug to local residents. Through the lengthy collaborative effort, investigators determined that Haas delivered the deadly drug to Kincaid.
They recovered foil with a substance on it at the location of Kincaid’s death. The substance was identified by the North Carolina State Crime Lab as a mixture of cyclopropyl fentanyl and heroin. The autopsy report showed that Kincaid died of cyclopropyl fentanyl, cocaine and oxycodone toxicity.
Prior to December 1, 2017, cyclopropyl fentanyl was not considered a controlled substance at the state level as it was at the federal level. However, state law changed in 2017, allowing investigators to pursue death by distribution for those people involved in dealing drugs that lead to death by overdose.
The involuntary manslaughter charge and conviction for a drug overdose are a first for Caldwell County, but investigators and prosecutors indicated they are intent on aggressively pursuing and punishing those responsible for bringing such poisons into the community.
“It became apparent that these drugs were being brought into Caldwell County, and when that happened, the Lenoir Police Department and Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office swiftly identified the source of that distribution to help prosecutors build a case against those responsible for this overdose and death. Their investigation identified the source of these drugs, and once they shut down that source of drugs from coming into Caldwell County, I have no doubt lives were saved. I hope that this case sends a message that Caldwell County will not tolerate this. Anyone who distributes opiates will be prosecuted and sent to prison.”District Attorney Scott Reilly
According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin. Because of its powerful opioid properties, fentanyl is also diverted for abuse. Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency or be disguised as highly potent heroin.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States, and the misuse of such drugs has been on the rise in North Carolina. A 2016 report showed that the opiate abuse rates of Wilmington and Hickory were ranked among the top five cities in the nation.
A report from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) showed that there were 157 opioid-related deaths in North Carolina in May 2018 and 1,664 confirmed deaths of such kind for the entire year. Caldwell County started seeing a rash of overdose cases in July 2017.
Sgt. Howard spearheaded the investigation for Lenoir Police Department with assistance from Cpl. Raby of the Sheriff’s Office. Assistant District Attorney Nancy Lee prosecuted the case for the State.
CONTACT: Nathan Key