Thursday, April 6, 2017

Questions remain as police end airline pilot overdose probe

Centerville police this month concluded an investigation into the fatal overdose of Spirit Airlines pilot Brian Halye, making a federal audit of the agency responsible for overseeing drug testing as the lone remaining review of Halye’s death. 

New records obtained this week from the Centerville Police Department revealed Halye’s mother-in-law, Nancy Casey, told police her son-in-law liked to “speedball” mixtures of cocaine and heroin. She told police the pilot “had been using drugs for two or three years” prior to his overdose in March, but investigators were ultimately unable to pinpoint the source of the drugs that killed Halye and his wife, Courtney.

A Dayton Daily News investigation into Captain Halye’s death posed even more unanswered questions.

In June, the Daily News revealed the Federal Aviation Administration sent a letter to Spirit Airlines four days after Halye died. The letter said the government “recently discovered” a Spirit Airlines employee was selected for random drug testing in late 2015, but was never tested.

The newspaper obtained the letter from the FAA using the federal Freedom of Information Act. But citing a “personal privacy” exemption, the FAA redacted key information from the letter: The pilot’s name.

“To have a person selected for testing and he missed it, that raises a red flag,” Tom Haueter, retired director of the National Transportation Safety Board, Office of Aviation Safety, said in June. “Why would this guy miss testing? Did he slip through the cracks?”

In June, the Daily News filed an appeal with the FAA seeking the redaction be overturned. Then in August, after receiving more documents from the FAA that redacted the name of a male pilot who was not tested, the newspaper filed an additional appeal.

An analyst in the FAA’s FOIA office on Wednesday said the appeals are “in various stages of review.”

In July, the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General confirmed it opened an audit into the FAA’s Drug Abatement Division, the office that oversees the aviation industry’s compliance with drug and alcohol testing regulations.

“They are still fairly early on in their work,” OIG spokesman Eric Weems said Wednesday.

The Inspector General report is scheduled to be released in summer 2018. OIG Program Director Tina Nysted said the audit will include a review of Halye’s death, which the office learned about through newspaper reporting.

Brian Halye, 36, and Courtney Halye, 34, were found dead by their four children March 16 after overdosing on carfentanil — heroin’s much stronger cousin — and cocaine, according to police and the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.

Spirit officials have not publicly disclosed the last time the airline drug-tested Halye, whose last flight was six days before his death. The airline did not respond to a request for comment this week, but in previous stories a spokesman defended the airline’s testing program.

“Today’s program meets all FAA requirements and in some cases exceeds those requirements,” Spirit Airlines spokesman Paul Berry said in July. “If the audit results in new drug testing requirements by the FAA in the future, we will always take steps to ensure we remain compliant with those requirements.”

Spirit is the nation’s ninth-largest and fastest-growing airline. It does not fly out of Dayton, but has daily flights from Akron-Canton, Cleveland and Detroit.

The mother-in-law of Spirit Airlines Captain Brian Halye said he liked to “speedball” mixtures of cocaine and heroin and “had been using drugs for two or three years” prior to his overdose death in March alongside his wife, according to a Centerville Police Department report.

A former co-worker and roommate of Halye’s additionally told Centerville police he had “heard Brian talk about smoking marijuana in the past,” but was surprised by the idea that Halye could have used other drugs, according to the Centerville police report obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

Brian Halye, 36, and Courtney Halye, 34, were found dead by their four children March 16 after overdosing on carfentanil — heroin’s much stronger cousin — and cocaine, according to police and the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.

Brian’s parents told police their son’s overdose death was “quite shocking.”

The Centerville police report is the first public documentation alleging that Brian Halye — a pilot at Spirit Airlines for nine years who died less than a week after his most recent flight, according to the airline — had used drugs on occasion before his death in March.

Spirit Airlines did not return an email seeking comment for this story. Previously, a company spokesperson said the airline “operates with the highest degree of safety” and is “fully compliant with federal regulations.”

‘A total surprise’

While Nancy Casey told police she was aware of her son-in-law’s drug use, Brian’s parents Cindy and James Halye told police and the Dayton Daily News they “had no idea at all” their son used drugs.

“It was a total surprise,” James Halye said in a newspaper interview.

“Unfortunately, I’d have to say Brian was using drugs at some point,” said Cindy Halye. “But, I don’t think for a minute he flew while under the direct influence of drugs. He loved his job flying. He was aware that he was in control of many lives while he was flying.”

“He wouldn’t even take allergy-type medicines when he started flying, because it kind of makes you groggy and not alert,” she said.

James Halye said his son started taking pilot lessons at age 13.

Centerville police attempted to track down the source of the couple’s drugs, but were unsuccessful. The investigation ended this month, prompting the release of records this news organization had requested. Police now consider the Halye case “inactive until such time new information or credible leads are available.”

Casey and Brian Huelsman, the attorney representing Courtney Halye’s estate, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment. A phone message left for Jeffrey Samford, Brian Halye’s former roommate interviewed by police, was not immediately returned.

Gruesome discovery

Police were called to the Halyes’ suburban home after Courtney’s 11-year-old daughter woke up and noticed her step-sisters had not yet awoke for school. She then found her mother and step-father “unresponsive and not breathing,” the report said.

“Upon arrival, I was met by four juveniles running out of the front door of the residence screaming,” the Centerville officer wrote. Emergency personnel found Brian and Courtney Halye dead with “needle puncture” marks on their bodies, according to the coroner and the police report.

Police additionally found “a couple of spoons that were found in a vanity drawer” of the couple’s master bathroom.

“The spoons had burn marks on the underside which is indicative of them being used to prepare illegal drugs prior to injection,” a Centerville police officer wrote. “One of the spoons still had a small piece of cotton attached, which is indicative of the cotton being used as a filter when illegal drugs are drawn up into a hypodermic syringe.”

Casey told police that her daughter Courtney had “struggled with drug addiction for the majority of her adult life” and in July 2016 attended a month-long drug rehabilitation program in Florida, according to the report. Casey told police Brian “only used drugs recreationally with Courtney,” according to the report.

“Nancy believes that Courtney likely introduced Brian to drugs and that Courtney would often tell her when she and Brian would use together,” the March 16 police narrative states. “When asked about who would acquire the drugs, Nancy advised that she would usually suspect Courtney, however she believes that any drugs acquired yesterday would have likely been bought by Brian, as she believes Courtney was with the children most of the day.”

“Nancy further advised that they used to buy drugs from an unknown black male in the City of Dayton near Miami Valley Hospital, however Courtney recently told her that this person died,” the report said. “If this information is correct, Nancy advised she would not have any idea where Brian or Courtney would have purchased the drugs that likely caused their deaths.”

Cindy Halye told the Dayton Daily News that Brian did not share the extent of Courtney’s drug use with his family.

“He didn’t even share that Courtney had a history of drugs when they got married, probably because we would not have been quite so on board with it,” she said.

Investigation’s findings

Even if a pilot is not high on cocaine when flying, withdrawal symptoms can be problematic, retired psychologist Malcolm Brenner said after Halye’s death.

“Cocaine has problems — it doesn’t last very long,” Brenner said. “The drug itself is very hard to recognize and very addictive.”

Brenner, a former National Transportation Safety Board psychologist, investigated the 1988 Trans-Colorado Flight 2286 crash in which the captain and his girlfriend had used cocaine the night before the crash. Nine of 17 people on board died in the crash outside Durango, Colo. The crash prompted expanded federal drug testing regulations.

A Dayton Daily News examination of those regulations found airline pilots can go years without being selected for a random drug or alcohol test. The newspaper’s investigation also found:

• Halye’s aerospace medical file, obtained by the newspaper under the federal Freedom of Information Act, did not mention a history of using illegal substances. Urine collected during aviation medical exams is used to detect diseases, but not drugs, experts told the Daily News after Halye’s death.

• Halye was not the first pilot at Spirit Airlines suspected of using a “speedball.” After a full day of domestic and overseas travel in 2007, another Spirit Airlines pilot was given a random drug test that revealed cocaine, morphine and heroin at levels “far above” the minimum required for a positive identification, according to court records from an unsuccessful appeal the pilot filed in an attempt to get his license restored.

• Spirit Airlines was found in non-compliance with federal drug and alcohol testing regulations in the months before Halye’s death, including an instance where a scheduled drug test of an employee never took place, according to Federal Aviation Administration records obtained by the newspaper.

• At least three Spirit employees — including at least two pilots — received verified positive drug tests since 2015, according to federal records the newspaper analyzed in June. That month, there were six open FAA Drug Abatement Division investigations into former Spirit Airlines employees, according to the FAA and the airline. Five of the investigations were from 2016, while another was from 2014. A Spirit Airlines spokesman said in June that none of the employees under investigation remained employed at Spirit and said the airline itself is not under investigation.

In July, the Department of Transportation Inspector General confirmed it opened an audit into the office that oversees the aviation industry’s compliance with drug and alcohol testing regulations, the FAA’s Drug Abatement Division. OIG Program Director Tina Nysted said the audit will include a review of Halye’s death, which the office learned about through newspaper reporting.

Cindy Halye said she does not follow the developments in the aftermath of her son’s death. Rather, she focuses on the life her son lived.

“You should have been at his funeral,” she said, recalling stories of his life, “none of which” involved drug use.


Since the death of Spirit Airlines Captain Brian Halye in March, the Dayton Daily News has interviewed dozens of people and reviewed thousands of pages of records related to aviation safety. This is the latest report in the series made possible by your investment in local journalism.

CENTERVILLE, Ohio - A Spirit Airlines pilot and his wife died of an overdose of cocaine and carfentanil, a drug so powerful its primary use is to tranquilize rhinos and elephants, the coroner’s office in Montgomery County, Ohio confirmed on Tuesday.

Brian Halye, 36, and Courtney Halye, 34, were found dead in their Dayton-area home in March by their four children, who called police. 

The toxicology results confirm what the coroner’s office had previously hinted at: the commercial passenger airline pilot died of an accidental drug overdose. 

The deaths came a week after Brian Halye’s last flight, prompting criticism of the random system used to test pilots.

Local health officials say the results are consistent with an increasing pattern of people using extremely powerful drugs, and combining potent opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil with cocaine and other drugs.

The autopsy does not make clear if the Halyes knew the cocaine they were taking contained carfentanil — a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than fentanyl and 1,000 times more powerful than morphine. 

It does indicate, however, that both Halyes took the drug by injection. Courtney Halye had needle puncture marks on her right thigh and left wrist, the report shows, while Brian Halye had a single needle puncture mark on his right arm. 

Intentionally injecting cocaine into the body with morphine, heroin or other drugs is known as a “speedball.”

The powerful concoction has killed celebrities, including former Saturday Night Live star John Belushi more than three decades ago. 

Earlier this month, Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco warned Cincinnati-area cocaine users that their stashes could be cut with fentanyl or heroin without their knowledge, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson last week told a U.S. Senate subcommittee that he believed drug dealers may be mixing cocaine and fentanyl as a way to increase opioid addiction in the black community, according to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

The Dayton Daily News reports the autopsy report doesn't indicate if the Halyes knew the cocaine contained carfentanil - a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than fentanyl and 1,000 times more powerful than morphine. But the autopsy report does show that both Halyes took the drug by injection.

Original article can be found here:

Often used to boost the potency of heroin, the deadly opioid carfentanil is increasingly showing up in cocaine and other drugs, including counterfeit pills resembling prescription drugs.

A synthetic opioid so potent it can bring down an elephant is partly responsible for the deaths of a Centerville airline pilot and his wife, according to autopsies released Tuesday. 

What’s unclear is whether Brian and Courtney Halye knowingly took carfentanil or if the drug hundreds of times more potent than heroin was laced into the cocaine also detected in their bodies.

It is known that dealers are increasingly putting fentanyl and carfentanil — both extraordinarily powerful opioids often used to boost the potency of street heroin — into other drugs, including cocaine, according to officials. 

It’s a frightening prospect to street drug users, considering a few granules of carfentanil no larger than table salt can kill a person. 

Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl and 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Its primary legitimate purpose is a tranquilizer for large animals like rhinos and elephants. Carfentanil has been linked to a significant number of overdose deaths nationwide, including fatalities in Montgomery County.

Last September, the DEA issued a nationwide warning about the health and safety risks of carfentanil that can also resemble powdered cocaine.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office attributed 19 deaths in January to cocaine mixed with more powerful opioids. 

"If someone is using cocaine, they might not be expecting it to be mixed with fentanyl," U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon told

Original article can be found here:

Three weeks after Ohio couple Brian and Courtney Halye were found dead by their children in their Centerville home, authorities are still trying to determine what happened. The toxicology reports haven’t yet come back, but the coroner listed the preliminary cause of death as one that is “consistent with a heroin or fentanyl overdose.”

But as the family awaits answers, the couple’s four children are struggling to make sense of their sudden loss.

“They are with relatives,” Courtney’s friend, Monica Camacho, tells PEOPLE. “The family has a strong support system.”

But she says, “They’re not doing well. They’re very sad. This was a shock to them, and they’re surrounded by people who are helping them cope with this.”

Brian, 36, was a pilot for Spirit Airlines. He married Courtney, 34, in 2012. They each had two children from previous relationships — he, two daughters and she, a son and a daughter. The children ranged in age from 9 to 13.

On March 16, the Halye’s children peeked into their parents’ bedroom after they failed to wake them up for school. After finding their unresponsive parents, the 13-year-old son called 911 and told the operator, “I just woke up and my two parents are on the floor.”

“My sister said they’re not waking up,” the boy continued as the three sisters cried in the background. “They’re not breathing… They were very cold.”

A police incident report from January 2016 alleged that Courtney — a Type 1 diabetic — had a history of drug use.

According to the report obtained by PEOPLE, Courtney’s mother, Nancy Case, had grown concerned after the two women had a phone conversation. Case contacted Centerville police and said that her daughter was suicidal and abusing narcotics.

Brian had also contacted police around that time after returning from a flight from Detroit to find Courtney missing, the Dayton Daily News reported. According to the newspaper, she returned to their house later and locked him out. When he forced entry, he allegedly found her holding two unloaded guns, according to the newspaper.

Courtney was allegedly taken by medics to the hospital for treatment, The Dayton Daily News reported, after police said she appeared mentally unstable and possibly intoxicated or having a medical issue related to diabetes.

As those close to the Halyes await their answers, they are keeping the children in their thoughts and prayers.

“At this point, the focus of everyone is on the kids,” says Camacho. “They are great kids; they don’t deserve this. Everyone’s heart just goes out to them.”

Original article can be found here:

Brian Halye with the couple’s three children

Brian Halye and son

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