Bergen County prosecutors today charged two men with causing the death of an Emerson heroin addict by giving her the fatal dose.
Christopher Benvenuto, 27, of Old Tappan ( above, right ) and Jessie Kurzweel, 26, of Closter ( left ) were being held on $150,000 bail each in the Bergen County Jail, charged under a decades-old law that allows authorities to hold drug suppliers criminally liable when a user dies.
Besides prosecuting the defendants for their alleged involvement in 47-year-old Doreen Leach’s death, Molinelli said he hoped the case sends a clear message to street-level dealers that they could face long prison terms no matter how small the amounts they sell.
In fact, the prosecutor said that his investigators intend to trace every deadly overdose back to “everyone” in the chain — from manufacturer to someone who helps a heroin user snort or shoot up the drug.
Police called to 18 Emerson Plaza West just before 3:30 yesterday morning found Leach dead on the floor of a downstairs apartment, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said.
Leach, who lived upstairs “determined she had expired from an apparent drug overdose,” Molinelli said, adding that Leach was pronounced dead at the scene.
Thus began an investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death.
Also charged was 38-year-old Jordan Ross of Glen Ridge ( above, inset ), who Molinelli said was hiding in Benvenuto’s home when police showed up to arrest him.
“Preceding her death, she and several others were using various drugs, including heroin,” Molinelli said. “It was learned that the person who supplied the heroin to the victim, also present at the time of Ms. Leach’s death, was [Benvenuto].”
Benvenuto “fled the apartment rather than render aid or call for help,” the prosecutor said.
A tenant there dialed 911, he said.
Molinelli noted that the caller was using, as well, but wasn’t charged because of the state’s Overdose Protection Act, which grants immunity to those who seek help in such instances ( SEE: Gov. Christie signs ‘good Samaritan’ overdose bill into law, with Bon Jovi ).
Besides arresting Benvenuto and Ross in Old Tappan, Molinelli said, detectives “recovered the items removed by [Benvenuto] from the Emerson scene.”
Ross was being held on $7,500 bail in the county jail, charged with heroin possession, being under influence and hindering apprehension. He also had an outstanding warrant for failing to show up for court on several drug-related offenses from earlier this year, records show.
Molinelli said Benvenuto bought the fatal heroin from Kurzweel, who was arrested in the parking lot of the Paramus Park Mall near his job yesterday afternoon. He was carrying several bags of the batch, the prosecutor said.
Kurzweel and Benvenuto, who is unemployed, are both charged with first-degree “strict liability for a drug-induced death,” as well as heroin distribution.
In addition, Benvenuto is charged with reckless manslaughter and hindering apprehension.
Molinelli, who thanked Old Tappan and Emerson police for their assistance, said the investigation is continuing.
MUGSHOTS: Courtesy Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office