Saturday, March 18, 2017

Phoenix flight paths fight goes to court

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Ever since September of 2014, flights at Sky Harbor International Airport have been taking off with a different path from the past, directly over historic and other neighborhoods. 

The Federal Aviation Administration has maintained it's about safety and saving fuel.  But the City of Phoenix and people putting up with the noise want the planes flying the old flight paths.

On Friday, the case was finally heard by the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

The big issue -- not just the noise -- but the time it took the City of Phoenix to fight the flight plans and the way the FAA notified the city about them.

The city and its attorney, John Putnam, began the oral arguments.  Justice Judith Rogers consistently asked Putnam why the city didn't file a formal complaint about the flight paths sooner. 

"Wasn't the city obligated to file a petition in 60 days if it wanted to challenge the new routes?" Justice Rogers asked.

"I don't believe it was your honor," Putnam responded.  "In this circumstance within 60 days -- within 30 days -- the FAA told the city the noise impacts were greater than expected and that it intended to listen to community and city and go about the process and make changes.

Mr. Putnam told the court the city believed the FAA would listen to the complaints and make changes.  So it didn't file a formal complaint in 60 days -- as the law says it was supposed to.  Instead, the city waited 10 months to file a lawsuit.

The law also said the FAA had to notify the city in advance of the new flight paths.  It did that through a low level employee, a noise abatement specialist, who apparently didn't tell superiors.  That was the issue Justice Rogers took up with the Department of Justice attorney, Lane McFadden.

"Why wouldn't the statues and own procedures, contemplate notifying policy making officials?... Otherwise, it's a stealth operation.  All of sudden, you wake up, the plane's flying over your house and you don't know about it," Justice Rogers said. 

"The specific regulatory obligation is to consult with quote a representative of local government with jurisdiction over the area," McFadden responded. 

That's what the FAA said it did. 

Now the justices will decide what happens next.  They've not said when they could issue a decision in the case. 


Yeager Airport (KCRW) confiscates second gun in one week

CHARLESTON - A Huntington man was cited by police at Yeager Airport on Thursday after a Transportation Security Administration officer found him in possession of a loaded firearm.

The TSA officer found the man with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun loaded with eight bullets, including one in the chamber. The citation was the second in two days.

On Wednesday, a Dunbar, West Virginia, man was found with a loaded .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun loaded with six bullets, including one in the firing chamber. An additional 14 bullets were found in a box next to the gun.

Both guns were confiscated by Yeager Airport police; the incidents are believed to be unrelated.

Weapons, including firearm parts and ammunition, are not permitted in carry-on bags, but can be transported in checked bags if unloaded and properly packed. Passengers who bring firearms to the checkpoint are subject to possible criminal charges from law enforcement and civil penalties from TSA up to $12,000, according to the TSA.


Volunteers help clean runways at Greenville Downtown Airport (KGMU)

Bennett Coetsee, 6, and seven-year-old Beau Shankle show off debris they found on the runway.

Air traffic was shut down temporarily at the Greenville Downtown Airport on Saturday morning as volunteers collected debris on airport surfaces.

About 40 to 50 people assembled into four teams, scanning the airport's ramps, taxiways and runways in-search of foreign object debris.

Foreign object debris is anything that should not be on airport surfaces. These include items like pens or sunglasses that fall from people's possession, to items from planes including nuts, bolts and tire caps. Foreign object debris also includes natural items like sticks, rocks and loose pavement.

"It's very dangerous on airports when any loose impediments like rocks or screws fall off and gets sucked up into an engine or blown into another aircraft. They spend a fortune on aircraft windscreen because of foreign object debris," said Joe Frasher, director of the Greenville Downtown Airport.

Walking shoulder to shoulder, volunteers kept their vision to the tarmac, searching for foreign objects and placing them into yellow bags. Julie Shankle, 35, brought her son Beau Shankle, 6, and nephew Bennett Coetsee, 7, to the event. Minus a dead bird, found by her son and nephew, Shankle said she hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary. "(We've) been picking up nuts and bolts and pieces of planes. Just things that could be a danger to flyers," she said.

Allan Austin, 62, a private pilot, said he just wanted to do his part. Austin said he's been flying for 10 years.

"This is preventive approach to keeping our airport in good shape. We wanted to come out and give back and help keep the airport clean," Austin said.

Opened in 1928, the airport employs about 200 and services close to 65,000 operations, Frasher said.

"This is the community's airport and we want to bring people out here as much as we can and make it something they can appreciate and enjoy." Frasher said.


Southwest Airlines, Boeing 737-700: Incident occurred March 18, 2017 at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport (KAMA), Amarillo, Texas

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -   A Southwest flight departing from Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix and headed to Atlanta had to make an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas Saturday morning after a pressurization failure.

According to one valley resident, oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling above the passengers while the pilot came over the PA system to announce that Southwest flight 118 had a cabin pressure failure and would need to make an emergency landing.

The plane landed safely. According to the passenger, one person was transported with unknown medical issues while others needed medical attention due to nosebleeds and hurt eardrums.

Southwest Airlines is re-booking passengers so they can still make it to their final destination in Atlanta and issued the below statement to its customers:

"The Pilots in command of Southwest flight #118 scheduled Phoenix to Atlanta initiated a controlled descent and safely diverted the aircraft to Amarillo to address a pressurization issue that developed in flight.  The Pilots and Crew followed emergency procedures to reach a safe altitude, take care of the Customers onboard and land at the nearest airport in accordance with trained procedures. The flight was met by Emergency personnel, and initial reports do not indicate any injuries to Customers or Crew. The aircraft was taken out of service so mechanics on the ground could inspect it and make any necessary repairs. The Customers will be accommodated on a different aircraft and will arrive Atlanta approximately 7 hrs. late. Our number one priority at Southwest Airlines is the Safety of our Customers and Employees. We apologize for the inconvenience this event created for our Customers."

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Incident occurred March 18, 2017 at LaGuardia Airport (KLGA), New York

A jet plane carrying 73 people got stuck in a snowdrift at LaGuardia Airport, officials said.

Republic Airline flight number 5964, operating under Delta, arrived Saturday from Chicago.

The pilot went to turn off the runway to taxi to the gate, and the plane got stuck, said Steve Coleman, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The ground crew helped to clear the snow and the plane taxied to the gate without assistance, said Elizabeth Wolf, Delta spokeswoman. 

None of the 73 passengers on board were injured. There was no damage to the Embraer 175 regional jet.

Coleman says airport operations weren't affected. The delay took about an hour. He says the plane did not skid off the runway.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.


Cessna 172M Skyhawk, N12213: Incident occurred March 17, 2017 at Spanish Fork-Springville Airport (U77), Spanish Fork, Utah County, Utah

SPANISH FORK – A car involved in a race crashed into a parked plane with a pilot inside at Spanish Fork-Springville Airport Friday night.

“All of a sudden there was a crash, and after a few seconds of being stunned I knew immediately what had happened,” said Preston Johnson, a 17-year-old pilot in training.

Johnson was getting in some night hours with his instructor on Friday in Spanish Fork. His plane was parked, and his instructor was out checking the plane's lights when the crash occurred.

“A Corvette hit me at pretty decent speeds, I hear," Johnson said. "I don't know cause I didn't see it."

Police say two middle-aged men attending a party at a nearby hangar took their sports cars out for a drag race on the taxiway.

“Mostly the sound is what caught me off guard," Johnson recalls. "Gear got taken out, the slant of it, and then [I] was completely surprised that just happened."

The Corvette came just close enough to the plane to clip the wheel. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

“If he had hit me straight on and hit my engine on it would have been a different story,” Johnson said.

The two drivers, one in a Corvette and the other in a Porsche, were cited for reckless driving.

“They were not kids, they were old enough that they really know better, and they exhibited very poor judgment and they are very remorseful today and there's going to be significant consequences,” said Cris Child, Spanish Fork Springville Airport Manager.

“A citation, [and] a mandatory court date usually with that, where they need to appear to court to explain what they were doing, essentially, to a judge,” said Sgt. Courtney Jones with Spanish Fork PD.

Cris Child says the party host who let them through the gate is not off the hook either. Police say he was talking with the drivers via a radio, telling them the taxiway was all clear.

“He'll probably be facing pretty considerable penalties up to and including losing his lease on the hangar,” Child said.

The airport says they will be implementing more security and will do everything in their power to make sure nothing even close to this happens ever again.

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A Corvette driver participating in a drag race with another car crashed into a small airplane stopped on the taxiway at Spanish Fork-Springville Airport on Friday evening.

Sgt. Cade Harding with Spanish Fork Public Safety said the drivers were invited into the security area of the airport by an individual with a hangar at the facility. He said those additional individuals didn’t have authorization to be at the airport.

The Corvette and a Porsche were reportedly drag racing on the taxiway. During one of the races at about 8:30 p.m., a single-engine plane preparing to depart stopped on the taxiway and stopped its engine to investigate a mechanical issue.

While the plane was stopped, the Corvette struck the plane causing damage to the plane’s wheel and possibly part of its tail, Harding said.

There was also damage to the passenger side of the Corvette.

No one was injured in the incident, including the plane’s flight instructor and student pilot.

Harding said the two car drivers would likely be charged with reckless driving. He indicated that drag racing isn’t necessarily a sanctioned activity at the airport, particularly when there were flight operations. The airport does accommodate flights after sunset.

The National Transportation Safety Board was contacted about the incident and Harding said airport personnel were going to address matters on their end.


SPANISH FORK, Utah, March 18, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — Police responded to the Spanish Fork-Springville Airport on Friday night, after a car that was drag racing hit a small plane.

Spanish Fork Police Sgt. Cade Harding said the incident happened at 8:30 p.m., when a Corvette drove into a small plane that had stopped to check on a mechanical issue. It was dark, and visibility was limited.

A student and an instructor were in the plane, preparing for a flight, Harding said, when they realized they had a problem with a landing light. They had taxied out and then shut down to check on the light.

“A couple of vehicles were drag racing, and one vehicle hit the plane,” Harding told Gephardt Daily. “Fortunately, no one was injured. We got lucky on this one.”

Harding didn’t know who owns the plane, but he said both the Corvette and the plane had some damage.

The driver of the Corvette and the driver of the other car, a Porsche, were both cited for reckless driving.


SPANISH FORK, Utah -- Police responded to the Spanish Fork-Springville Airport Friday night after a car involved in a drag race crashed into an airplane stopped on the taxiway.

There were no injuries reported in connection with the crash, and Fox 13 News first heard report of the incident around 9 p.m.

Spanish Fork Police say a man who has access to a hangar at the airport invited several friends into a restricted area, and some of those individuals began drag racing on the taxiway.

A 17-year-old boy and a flight instructor were in a small aircraft working on the teen's nighttime certification. As the plane moved down the taxiway, the pair noticed an issue with a light and shut the aircraft down to check out the problem.

A Corvette and Porsche were racing down the taxiway, and the Corvette struck the stopped airplane, which sustained damage to its landing gear.

There were no injuries reported. Police say the drivers of the cars were issued citations for reckless driving.

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Basler BT-67 Turbo 67 (DC-3T), Private Air on behalf of Cargo North, C-FKGL: Incident occurred March 17, 2017 at Pickle Lake Airport, Ontario, Canada

PICKLE LAKE -- A North Star Air BT-67 cargo aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing at the Pickle Lake airport on Friday.

Ontario Provincial Police officers were called to the airport at 12:20 p.m. 

The two pilots and single crew member were uninjured in the incident. 

"North Star Air is fully co-operating with the investigation and will release further information as it becomes available," a company spokeswoman said in a release issued by the airline.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada officials will arrive in Pickle Lake on March 18 to investigate the incident. 


Provincial police officers responded about 12:20 p.m. to the Pickle Lake airport to investigate an emergency landing by a North Star Air cargo plane.

The airplane’s two pilots and a crew member were not injured, police said. There were no passengers onboard the plane, which the airline referred to as a Basler BT-67.

Transportation Safety Board investigators will be on site today to investigate this incident. North Star Air activated their emergency response plan and are working with the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada to determine the cause.

Cessna 172P Skyhawk, University of Michigan Flyers Inc, N230TX: Fatal accident occurred March 15, 2017 in Manitouwadge, Canada

University of Michigan Flyers Inc

NTSB Identification: CEN17WA133 
Accident occurred Wednesday, March 15, 2017 in Manitouwadge, Canada
Aircraft: CESSNA 172P, registration: N230TX
Injuries: Unavailable

The foreign authority was the source of this information.

On March 15, 2017, at an unknown time, a Cessna 172P airplane, N230TX, owned and operated by the University of Michigan Flyers Inc. was substantially damaged when it collided with wooded terrain near Manitouwadge, Ontario, Canada. No pilot or occupant was found in the wreckage. The flight originated from the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport, near Ann Arbor, Michigan, about 1912 eastern daylight time and was destined for the Harbor Springs Airport, near Harbor Springs, Michigan.

The accident investigation is under the jurisdiction and control of the Canadian Transportation Safety Board. This report is for informational purposes only and contains only information released by or obtained from the Canadian government. 

Further information pertaining to this accident may be obtained from:

Transportation Safety Board of Canada
200 Promenade du Portage,
Place du Centre, 4th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 1K8 
Occurrence Number: A17O0045

The pilot, Xin Rong, of a Cessna Skyhawk (N230TX) that crashed 60km east of Marathon has been declared dead by Washtenaw County probate judge Julia Owdziej, in an October 5th hearing. Rong, member of Michigan Flyers, based at the Ann Arbor airport rented the plane, with a flight plan for Harbour Springs, Michigan. The aircraft was reported overdue the same day, March 15th, 2017. 

A search was conducted in the Harbour Springs/Petoskey area without success, and the search radius was expanded into Northern Ontario. 

Superior East Ontario Provincial Police – Wawa assisted JRCC Trenton in searching for a missing small aircraft on March 16th.  The Hercules was observed searching in Michipicoten Bay for about 25 minutes before heading to Marathon to continue searching there. The Skyhawk was found crashed, out of fuel, 60km east of Marathon with no signs of the pilot Xin Rong at the crash site and no footprints in the snow. There were a number of Rong’s personal items found in the aircraft.

Xin Rong was pursuing a doctorate at University of Michigan and was a certified private pilot.

The University of Michigan doctoral student, who was from China, disappeared last March while flying a rented Cessna from the Ann Arbor, Michigan airport.

The plane's wreckage was found in a forested area about 60 kilometres from Marathon but there was no trace of the pilot.

Two rescue technicians airlifted to the site found no human remains and no footprints in the snow around the wreckage.

It appeared the plane had been on autopilot, and hit the ground after exhausting its fuel supply.

Authorities have speculated that Rong exited the plane at some point prior to the crash.

A probate judge has signed an order declaring that he died on March 15, the day of the crash.

Xin Rong

OTTAWA—The military search-and-rescue technicians dropped in on a mystery.

A light plane had crashed in the woods in northern Ontario and an air force Hercules transport and Griffon helicopter were dispatched from Trenton to search for survivors.

They located the crash site and two rescuers dropped by parachute to the scene. It’s what they didn’t find that has left authorities on both sides of the border scratching their heads.

There was no pilot in the wreckage, nor any indication that anyone had walked away.

“Aircraft was devoid of any occupant or any trace of an occupant prior to impact; no footprints in snow,” read a preliminary report by Transport Canada.

The plane, a Cessna 172, had departed Ann Arbor, Mich., bound for Harbor Springs, about 370 kilometres north, just after 7 p.m. on March 15.

But the plane overflew its destination and continued north, flying another 380 kilometres over the eastern end of Lake Superior before crashing east of Marathon, Ont., just before midnight.

That’s where military rescuers found it the following day. “They conducted a search of the immediate area and there was nothing to suggest that anybody walked away from the wreckage,” said Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Peter Leon.

The next day, the OPP flew in its own team to search the crash site and they too came up empty, Leon told the Star.

“It is rather unique,” Leon said. “We’ve had a number of tragedies involving aircraft. Usually when they find the aircraft, they find the pilot or the occupants.”

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada also went to the scene to survey the wreckage.

The plane crash has now become a missing persons case, although authorities aren’t holding out much hope they will find the pilot alive.

Police believe that at some point during the flight, the pilot, a 27-year-old PhD student at the University of Michigan, jumped from the plane, leaving it to fly unattended until it crashed.

“The feeling right now is at some point during the flight, the pilot more than likely left the confines of that aircraft. Whereabouts? We have no idea,” Leon said.

“It is entirely possible that the pilot could have exited the plane at any point,” he said.

The Transport Canada report pointedly noted that, “the pilot was not a parachutist or does not own a parachute.”

The pilot was seen on the morning of March 15. Later that day, he rented the Cessna at Ann Arbor Airport, according to Diane Brown, a spokeswoman for the University of Michigan police department.

“University police have reasons to believe his actions likely were an act of self-harm,” Brown said in a statement.

“Out of respect for his family, classmates and colleagues, we won’t have additional information to release on the investigation,” she said.

The search has been put on hold but Leon said that police are hoping someone may find something. “We’ll obviously do whatever we can to try to locate the whereabouts of that pilot and follow up on any information that is received,” Leon said.


The 27-year-old Michigan pilot and academic believed to have rented the small plane that crashed without any occupants last week near Manitouwadge was likely intending to his end his life when he took off, University of Michigan police confirmed Wednesday.

“Police have reasons to believe his actions likely were an act of self-harm,” a University of Michigan news release said.

Police said the pilot was Ann Arbor, Mich. resident Xin Rong, 27, a Ph.D. candidate in the university’s school of information.

Rong, who was last seen on the morning of March 15, is believed to have rented a Cessna 172 aircraft later that day from the University of Michigan Flyers club.
Police have suspended an air and ground search for Rong, the release said. His body has not been found.

Rong described himself on his website as an award-winning researcher in the field of “human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence (and) natural language processing.”

University police did not elaborate on why it believes Rong was feeling suicidal.

“Out of respect for his family, classmates and colleagues, we won't have additional information to release,” said the news release.

According to a Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigation, the Cessna 172 Rong rented crashed on the night of March 15 about 25 kilometres southeast of Manitouwadge.

No traces of a pilot or passengers were found at the remote scene. Investigators said the plane didn’t land anywhere before it crashed, and had travelled 770 kilometres by the time it descended unoccupied into the woods.

“When (Rong) exited, and how (Rong) exited, is still a mystery,” said one board investigator who inspected the crash site.

Investigators believe the plane was flying on auto-pilot and ran out of fuel just prior to crashing.

It departed Ann Arbor airport, near Detroit, about 7 p.m. on March 15 and was bound for Harbour Springs in the northern part of Michigan.

ANN ARBOR, MI - Police have identified a missing University of Michigan student who rented a small plane that crashed in Canada last week.

School of Information doctoral candidate Xin Rong, 27, was last seen on the morning of March 15, said Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security.

He rented a plane from the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport the same day, and it's believed to have crashed late that night, about 11:38 p.m. in Ontario, Canada, about 37.3 miles east of the town of Marathon. Marathon appears to be about 463 miles northwest of Ann Arbor by air.

A wrecked plane in Ontario, Canada, is connected to a missing University of Michigan student, police say.

Officials do not believe Rong was aboard the plane at the time of the crash and university police believe his actions were likely an act of self-harm. Air and ground searches for him have since been suspended, Brown said.

Sgt. Peter Leon, media coordinator for Ontario Provincial Police, has said there's nothing to indicate that the plane's pilot is alive.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating the crash and a liaison from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is working with Canadian authorities, said Chris Krepski, a spokesman for the Canadian board.

The university division declined to release further information.


Science flights give center director new perspective

NORMAL — Stacey Shrewsbury recently took her love of flight and exploration to new heights — 43,000 feet, to be exact.

Shrewsbury, lead flight director at the Challenger Learning Center at Heartland Community College, flew aboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy last week as part of a program to give educators a first-hand opportunity to see scientific researchers at work.

During the two flights she made while in California, in discussions on the ground and a course she took as part of the project, Shrewsbury learned a lot about infrared astronomy and the electromagnetic spectrum.

She also learned about teamwork.

“Individual teams need to come together for the mission to be a success. That's what we do here,” said Shrewsbury, with her feet back on the ground on the Heartland campus.

The flying observatory — called SOFIA — carried a Field Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer on Shrewsbury's two flights. The equipment included a telescope with a 100-inch-diameter mirror pointed out the open door of the modified 747SP aircraft. The plane is based at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, Calif.

During “missions” at the Challenger Learning Center, participants are assigned to teams and told each team is important and if one team fails, the mission fails, explained Shrewsbury.

“I saw that with SOFIA time and time again,” she said.

The flight crew, telescope operators, scientists, technicians, mechanics and others on the ground and in the air all worked together, engaging in “problem-solving and team building on the fly,” said Shrewsbury.

“What I really appreciated and took away from this is the passion that each individual carried with him or her through the mission and the SOFIA program,” she said.

The project is a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center. The primary focus of the scientists on Shrewsbury's flights was mapping the M51 galaxy, also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy that is about 30 million light-years away.

Adjusting to the time change and different sleeping schedules was a challenge. The flights took place at night. The second one lasted from 8:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m.

A pilot herself — although of much smaller planes — Shrewsbury followed their flights on her own tablet and was on the flight deck for the takeoff of the first flight and landings of both flights.

A typical 747SP can seat about 230 passengers. But Shrewsbury said their SOFIA flights, equipped with various science stations and equipment, had 23 people on board.

Shrewsbury was partnered with Jennifer Hubbell-Thomas, a science teacher at Williamsville (Ill.) Junior High School. They worked together as “earth ambassadors,” providing educational programs, before being selected to fly aboard SOFIA as “airborne astronomy ambassadors.”

The purpose of the program is “to more effectively engage learners of all ages on NASA science education programs and activities,” according to the SETI Institute, which manages the ambassador program.

Shrewsbury will talk about her experiences at various events, including the Parent-Child Astronomy Exploration program April 1 at the Challenger center.

One of the mission directors told Shrewsbury that his interest in astronomy was triggered by a junior high school teacher who brought an inflatable planetarium to the classroom. 

Her hope is that students participating in missions at the Challenger center will find a similar spark that inspires them.

“What I want people to walk away with is to find that interest, find that passion and ride that passion,” she said. “Use it to push you forward and propel you to the next thing.”

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Prosecutors Treat Opioid Overdoses as Homicides, Snagging Friends, Relatives: As U.S. drug deaths hit record levels, prosecutors and police are trying a tactic that echoes tough-on-crime theories of the 1990s

CINCINNATI—After Daniel Eckhardt’s corpse was found on the side of a road in Hamilton County, Ohio, last year, police determined he died of a heroin overdose.

Not long ago, law enforcement’s involvement would have ended there. But amid a national opioid-addiction crisis fueling an unprecedented wave of overdose deaths, the investigation was just beginning.

Detectives interrogated witnesses and obtained search warrants in an effort to hold someone accountable for Mr. Eckhardt’s death. The prosecutor for Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati and its suburbs, charged three of Mr. Eckhardt’s companions, including his ex-wife and her boyfriend, with crimes including involuntary manslaughter, an offense carrying a maximum prison sentence of 11 years.

Mr. Eckhardt voluntarily took the heroin that killed him, but prosecutors alleged the trio were culpable because they bought and used heroin with him that they knew could result in death.

The indictments were part of a nationwide push to investigate overdose deaths as homicides and seek tough prison sentences against drug dealers and others deemed responsible. It’s an aggressive tactic law-enforcement officials say they’re using in a desperate attempt to stanch the rising tide of overdose deaths.

Fueled by a flood of heroin laced with fentanyl and other powerful synthetic opioids, the overdose death rate in Hamilton County more than tripled between 2006 and 2016 to 50 per 100,000 people, or four times as many as those killed in traffic accidents. Nationally, some 64,000 Americans died from overdoses last year, up 86% from 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A newly created heroin task force in Hamilton County has investigated hundreds of deaths in the past two years, resulting in a dozen involuntary manslaughter indictments in state court and 13 federal indictments for distribution of controlled substances resulting in death.

“The deaths—that’s why. All the people dying,” Cmdr. Thomas Fallon, who leads the Hamilton County task force, says of the prosecution push. “Even in the cocaine and crack days, people didn’t die like this.”

At least 86 people nationwide received federal prison sentences last year for distributing drugs resulting in death or serious injury, up 16% from 2012, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a federal agency that determines sentencing guidelines for judges. An analysis of news reports found 1,200 mentions nationally about drug-death prosecutions in 2016, three times the number in 2011, according to a recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group that supports decriminalizing drug use.

The prosecutions often employ tough-on-crime legislation born of the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. These state and federal laws hold drug distributors liable for overdose deaths. Selling even small amounts can result in decades or even life in prison.

In some states, such laws were rarely enforced until recently. Benjamin J. Agati, a veteran prosecutor in the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, has helped train police departments throughout the state in how to build cases under the state’s drug-induced homicide law, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. The law was enacted in the late 1980s but was rarely applied before the surge in opioid deaths, Mr. Agati says.

Before the current overdose crisis, the typical police response to a drug death was “ ‘OK, I gotta call the medical examiner, notify next of kin, make sure there’s no foul play and dispose of the needle. And then I’m outta here,’ ” Mr. Agati says. “It’s just another person who’s died from addiction and that’s it.”

In late 2015, a Justice Department task force recommended that law enforcement “prioritize prosecutions of heroin distributors, especially when the drug causes death.” Since 2013, Kansas and Delaware have passed laws that punish dealers for distributing drugs that result in death, and 13 state legislatures have introduced bills that would do the same, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

The prosecution's sometimes nab members of drug-distribution gangs like that of Navarius Westberry. Last year, Mr. Westberry pleaded guilty in federal court in Kentucky to operating a drug-trafficking ring that distributed up to a kilogram of heroin and 50 grams of fentanyl over an 18-month period that killed at least one person. He was sentenced to life in prison.

But in courtrooms around the country, prosecutors are also sweeping up low-level dealers who are addicts trying to support their habit, as well as friends and family members of overdose victims who bought or shared drugs with the deceased. Some critics of the prosecution tactic say these users need treatment, not harsh prison sentences.

Critics see the prosecutions as more of the same drug-war tactics that have filled America’s prisons with nonviolent criminals but done little to stop illicit drug use. There’s scant evidence that fear of prison deters addicts from using, and for every dealer put behind bars, another is ready to take his place, says Lindsay LaSalle, an attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance.

Law-enforcement officials say they’ve seen some signs the prosecutions may be deterring dealers, including jailhouse phone calls they say they’ve overheard in which inmates warn associates that police are pressing homicide charges against drug traffickers. They say drug-death prosecutions are just one piece of a broader strategy to combat the crisis, including urging addicts into rehab and taking down large-scale traffickers.

In Hamilton County, heroin addiction looms large. Cmdr. Fallon, the task force commander, is raising his grandson because his adult child is hooked. The daughter of another officer barely survived a heroin overdose earlier this year. A former county prosecutor, Allison Hild, pleaded not guilty earlier this year to charges of trafficking heroin.

The task force members, who are on call 24 hours a day to respond to overdoses, include officers from local police departments, the state Highway Patrol and a federal agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

When Detective Mark Bohan’s cellphone woke him from a deep sleep late just before midnight one October night, he thought it must be his 4 a.m. alarm rousing him for the gym. Instead, it was a text message alerting him to a suspected heroin overdose.

Detective Bohan, a fit man with dark hair and a goatee, got dressed and drove to the scene, hoping to gather evidence that might lead him to the dealer who sold the fatal dose to the 26-year-old male victim.

On the porch of the two-story white house, Halloween decorations hung from the rafters and the dead man’s girlfriend smoked a cigarette. “I thought he was clean,” she sobbed. Detective Bohan, 49, searched the man’s cellphone for text messages that might point to where he bought the drugs. He asked the woman if she knew the name of her boyfriend’s dealer, but she could only give an address.

A few years ago, when Detective Bohan was investigating rapes and murders, he never would have dragged himself out of bed near midnight for an overdose. The most attention a drug death received then was a brief visit from a uniformed patrolman to check for foul play, he said. “Until the heroin hit so bad…there was really no investigation afterward.”

Earlier that day, a group of task-force officers attempted to gather evidence against an alleged dealer linked to a different overdose death. In a police station parking lot north of Hamilton County, Lt. Joe Boyatt and his colleagues affixed a hidden wire to an informant who barely survived an overdose after taking drugs from the same alleged dealer. His friend wasn’t as lucky and died from what turned out to be a fatal combination of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Lt. Boyatt, 61, recruited the 26-year-old man to be a confidential informant while he was recovering in the hospital a few months earlier. “We want to find the people who are selling the stuff,” Lt. Boyatt told the young man. “There’s nobody but you that has as much information.”

The informant, a college graduate with dirty-blond hair, said he agreed to cooperate with the police “to bring closure to [the] family” of his friend. “I’m just gonna try to do right by him,” he said.

In a nearby suburban neighborhood, the officers watched from parked cars as the dealer approached the informant’s car and allegedly sold him $60 worth of fentanyl. The investigation is continuing.

The task force presents its cases to either the county prosecutor or the U.S. attorney in Cincinnati, who decide whether to press charges.

On the night of Daniel Eckhardt’s death last year, he was with his ex-wife, Bridget Bode, and her boyfriend, Wesley Dean Williams. Also there was Destany Davidson, who was on a first date with Mr. Eckhardt, according to the task force’s investigative report. After buying $120 of heroin in Cincinnati, the quartet drove 30 miles back to Mr. Williams’ house in West Harrison, Ind., where they spent the night getting high.

Ms. Davidson, 19, told police that awoke around 4 a.m. to find that Mr. Eckhardt was lying next to her dead from an overdose. After carrying Mr. Eckhardt’s body and possessions into Mr. Williams’ car, the group drove around for a short while, then crossed back into Hamilton County and dumped Mr. Eckhardt’s body on the side of a road, according to the investigative report.

The coroner’s office later found that the heroin Mr. Eckhardt used also contained fentanyl, and he likely slipped into a coma “for some time” before dying.

After the task force completed its investigation, the detectives handed the case to Seth Tieger, a veteran Hamilton County prosecutor, who charged the trio with tampering with evidence, abusing a corpse, corrupting another with drugs and involuntary manslaughter.

Ms. Bode and Ms. Davidson each pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence, and were sentenced to three years in prison. Mr. Williams pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and also received a three-year sentence.

The sentences weren’t harsh enough to satisfy Mr. Eckhardt’s mother, Pamela Eckhardt, who says she was blindsided by the plea agreements. “It was a slap in the face,” Ms. Eckhardt says, sitting in her sister’s upholstery shop on Cincinnati’s west side. “It was shoved under the rug like his life didn’t matter.”

Mr. Tieger says sending all three defendants to prison was a good outcome, and that sometimes victims’ families are “looking for more from the justice system than we’re able to give.”

A two-hour drive south from Hamilton County, Kerry B. Harvey, the mustachioed U.S. attorney for eastern Kentucky from 2010 to early 2017, made prosecuting drug-deaths a priority around 2015. He used a 1986 federal law that had rarely been applied in the district, which established a mandatory 20-years-to-life sentence for distributing drugs that resulted in death or serious injury. The penalty grew to life in prison for defendants with prior felony drug convictions.

He saw the approach as a way to bring solace to families devastated by the increasing number of heroin-related deaths in the area. Plus, the law’s stiff penalties helped persuade dealers to cooperate against bigger suppliers, he said.

“When someone is looking at 20 years to life, they’re gonna tell you whatever they know to save themselves,” he said.

Mr. Harvey assigned three prosecutors to work on the cases and began working with local police to investigate overdose deaths as homicides. Since 2015 one of the prosecutors, Todd Bradbury, has convicted 16 people for selling drugs that resulted in death, two of whom received life sentences.

One of those convicted was Fred Rebmann, who in 2016 sold $60 of fentanyl to Kathleen Cassity. Ms. Cassity was six months pregnant and died within hours of buying the drugs. Doctors performed an emergency C-section, but failed to save the life of her unborn child.

At the time, Mr. Rebmann was 31 and spent his days scheming to obtain enough heroin to avoid withdrawal. “I would work odd jobs…steal…hold up signs for money,” he said in an email from prison. He also dealt drugs. “There were days I’d sell heroin to get my own, and there were days I sold scrap metal,” he said in a telephone interview.

Addiction doesn’t “disqualify” small-time dealers like Mr. Rebmann from prosecution, says Mr. Bradbury, the prosecutor. “He knew he was selling something extremely dangerous to a pregnant woman,” he says. Mr. Rebmann says he didn’t know Ms. Cassity was pregnant.

Mr. Bradbury offered him a deal. If Mr. Rebmann pleaded guilty, prosecutors would recommend a 20-year sentence that, with credit for good behavior, could be reduced by three years. If he went to trial and lost, Mr. Rebmann faced mandatory life in prison because of a 2012 heroin-possession conviction.

Mr. Rebmann took the deal and pleaded guilty in August 2016, but U.S. District Judge Joseph M. Hood, a Vietnam War veteran appointed to the bench in 1990, rejected Mr. Bradbury’s sentencing recommendation. Ms. Cassity died “because you wanted to stick a needle in your arm,” Judge Hood told Mr. Rebmann, according to a transcript of the hearing. He sentenced Mr. Rebmann to 30 years in prison.

“I want it to be known here in Lexington… if you get convicted of dealing in heroin and a death results, 20 years isn’t enough,” Judge Hood said. “Time for coddling is over.”

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:

Brian Halye with the couple’s three children

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:

Brian Halye and son

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, shown in early 2016, said the state is suing five drugmakers.

The Wall Street Journal
By Jeanne Whalen
Updated May 31, 2017 2:48 p.m. ET

Ohio is suing five drugmakers, the state’s attorney general said Wednesday, alleging they fueled an opioid crisis in the state by misrepresenting the addictive risks of their painkillers.

The lawsuit, filed in state court in Ross County, targets parent companies and various subsidiaries, including Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson , Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. , Allergan PLC and Endo International PLC’s Endo Health Solutions unit.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said at a news conference that the companies were dishonest with doctors about their painkillers’ risks. He said they marketed heavily to general practitioners, who “may not have a particular specialty in that area.”

“The evidence is going to show they knew what they were saying was not true and they did it to increase sales,” Mr. DeWine said.

In a statement, Johnson & Johnson, parent of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which sells Duragesic, said: “We firmly believe the allegations in this lawsuit are both legally and factually unfounded. Janssen has acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding our opioid pain medications, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about the known risks of the medications on every product label.”

Teva said it is reviewing the complaint and didn’t have an immediate comment. Teva and its Cephalon Inc. unit sell the painkillers Actiq and Fentora.

Purdue, maker of the painkiller OxyContin, said: “We share the attorney general’s concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”

Allergan and Endo declined to comment. Allergan sells Kadian, Norco and generic opioids. Endo, parent of Endo Health Solutions, makes the painkiller Opana.

Ohio has been among the states hardest hit by opioid addiction, which has helped drive U.S. overdose deaths to all-time highs. Many people became addicted by taking powerful opioid painkillers, and often then turned to heroin if they couldn’t get access to pills. Public-health officials have long blamed aggressive company marketing and lax opioid painkiller prescribing for sparking the crisis.

In an interview, Mr. DeWine said Ohio’s lawsuit is among the most comprehensive taken by any state against opioid-painkiller makers. He said he believed only Mississippi has filed a suit similar in scope to Ohio’s.

Some cities and counties, including Chicago and California’s Orange and Santa Clara counties, have also sued opioid painkiller makers, alleging misleading marketing that fueled addiction. West Virginia sued drug distributors, alleging they improperly flooded the state with addictive painkillers.

Perhaps the biggest legal hit to a painkiller company came in 2007, when Purdue Frederick Co., an affiliate of Purdue Pharma, and three of its executives pleaded guilty in federal court to criminal charges of misleading the public about the addictive qualities of OxyContin, and agreed to pay the federal government and a group of states $634.5 million in fines. That settlement grew out of a multistate investigation and a federal lawsuit.

Original article can be found here:

The four children woke up and were about to start getting ready for school when they found their parents, Brian and Courtney Halye, unresponsive and cold in their bedroom.

The children, ages 9 to 13, dialed 911.

“My mom's on the floor and my stepdad's basically pale and they're not waking up,” Courtney Halye's daughter told an emergency dispatcher through tears.

Indeed, they were dead, and Montgomery County, Ohio, Coroner's Office Director Ken Betz told the Dayton Daily News that the “preliminary indication is probable accidental drug overdose.” Authorities think the culprit may be heroin that was mixed with fentanyl — a deadly combination that has claimed countless lives across the country.

In a second 911 call Thursday from the home in southwestern Ohio, another child, a 13-year-old, tried to answer a dispatcher's questions as his siblings could be heard wailing in the background.

“Are they breathing?” the dispatcher asked.

“I don't think so,” the boy responded.

“Have they been feeling ill?” a medic asked.

“No, they were just fine,” he replied. He called out to his sisters, “Guys, did you see anything? What was wrong with them?”

“They said that my stepdad's face was pale and there was black lines all over his face,” the boy then said.

“Are they warm or cold to the touch?” the medic said.

“They were very cold,” he responded.

“Do you guys have gas appliances?” the medic asked.

“What is a gas appliance?” he replied.

When authorities arrived, the boy could be heard directing them to his parents' bedroom at their home in Centerville, not far from Dayton: “My parents are upstairs to the left — the last door to the left.”

The boy continued talking to the dispatcher, telling her that he had stepped outside. When asked whether he was cold, he replied, “A little bit; I'm fine.”

He could be heard sniffling as the recording cut out.

As with much of the United States, Ohio is in the throes of a ruthless opioid epidemic that shows no signs of abating.

Children have become innocent victims; some have seen their parents shoot up and overdose, occasionally with fatal consequences. Others have unwittingly and unwillingly faced overdoses themselves.

In September 2016, a chilling photograph distributed by the authorities captured the innocence lost on a 4-year-old’s face in East Liverpool, Ohio, where a man and woman were seen slumped over after overdosing in a vehicle, the boy still strapped into his car seat in the back. A week later and 600 miles away, at a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass., a hysterical toddler was captured on a cellphone video as she tried to wake her mother after an apparent drug overdose.

The video showed the toddler, dressed in pink-and-purple “Frozen” pajamas, pulling her mother’s fingers, then sitting down beside her and shaking her mother’s face.

In October, a 7-year-old girl in McKeesport, Pa., told her school bus driver that she hadn’t been able to wake the adults in her house for days, and that their bodies were beginning to change colors. She had been caring for three other children in the home — ages 5, 3 and 9 months — and had gotten herself back and forth to school, police said. Her parents were dead.

Then, a couple in Washington state made news when authorities said they had been injecting their young children with heroin, reportedly calling it “feel good medicine.”

Synthetic opioids, including heroin and its deadlier cousin, fentanyl, are the main drivers of overdose deaths across the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Ohio Department of Health reports that the number of opioid-related deaths in the state skyrocketed from 296 in 2003 to 2,590 in 2015 — a 775 percent jump over a 12-year period. These numbers include deaths involving prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl, which is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times as potent.

Centerville police spokesman John Davis said Brian and Courtney Halye were the city's fifth and sixth fatal overdose victims this year. Last year, there were just five.

“It doesn't matter who you are or where you are — this epidemic knows no boundaries,” Davis told The Washington Post, adding that the Centerville case illustrates that.

Davis said the couple's deaths appeared to be drug-related because drug paraphernalia was found at the scene and that it “meets all the criteria” for a heroin-fentanyl overdose. But authorities are awaiting the toxicology results, he said.

Davis said the danger is that, in many cases, drug dealers have no idea what they are selling — and users have no idea what they are buying.

Brian Halye, a 36-year-old pilot for Spirit Airlines, married Courtney in 2013, according to his obituary. Each had two children from previous relationships, police said.

Spirit Airlines said in a statement that Halye had worked for the company for more than nine years and had flown his final flight March 10.

“Our hearts go out to the family, friends, and colleagues of Captain Halye,” Spirit Airlines spokesman Paul Berry said in a statement.

Berry said that Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration regulations require airlines to conduct tests for pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and dispatchers, including “random and reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing.” If someone in one of these “safety-sensitive positions” tests positive, that person would be “immediately removed from their position,” he said.

Another spokesman said the company would not be providing any further comment.

Courtney Halye, 34, was described in her obituary as “a kind loving generous soul.”

“She had a smile that lit up a room which made her very much loved by all her family and friends,” it read. “Courtney was a wonderful nurturing mother to two beautiful children.”

The Dayton Daily News reported that Courtney Halye apparently had a history that involved drugs. In 2007, Jacob Castor, her then-husband and father of her children, died of a drug overdose, the newspaper reported, citing the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.

In 2009 she was convicted of felony drug possession, although the case was later expunged, according to the Dayton Daily News.

The Dayton Daily News also reported:

In January of 2016, Nancy Casey, Courtney Halye’s mother, contacted Centerville police and said she felt her daughter threatened to harm herself and was abusing narcotics.

Casey told officers her daughter had been “hooked on drugs” on and off for about seven years. The mother suspected her daughter was high when talking with her that day, the report said.

In that same report, which covered events of Jan. 5-6, 2016, Brian Halye contacted police after he had returned from Detroit, where he worked for Spirit Airlines as a pilot. Brian Halye told officers he had called and texted his wife, who had hung up on him and would not tell him where she was.

Police used her cellphone to determine she was in east Dayton but did not immediately find her. When officers found her vehicle, Courtney Halye was not there.

Later on Jan. 6, 2016, Brian Halye told police his wife had returned to their house but had locked him out. He worried that she was trying to get to two unloaded guns he kept inside, so he forced entry.

Courtney Halye was holding both guns, the report said, and her husband took them from her just as officers arrived there.

Police said that she appeared mentally unstable and possibly intoxicated or having a medical issue related to diabetes. The officer requested medics, who took her to the hospital for treatment.

Brian Halye told officers that day his wife had battled heroin and cocaine addiction “for quite some time.”

Casey recently told NBC News that Courtney Halye had Type 1 diabetes and was on medication for depression; but she said she did not think her daughter and son-in-law had a persistent drug problem.

“I don't know if they decided they were going to party, or went and they got ahold of this bad stuff going around town,” Casey said. But she added that she had been concerned since she talked to them the day before the couple was found dead.

“I had this dreadful feeling all day,” she told NBC News. “Something was off with her and something was off with him.”

Original article can be found here:

The Spirit Airlines pilot whose death authorities call a likely overdose may not have been drug tested in years, because while federal regulations require airlines to drug test under certain conditions, airline pilots are not drug tested during yearly physical exams.

Centerville police have not indicated whether they believe Brian Halye, 36, had used drugs on occasions prior to his March 16 death alongside his wife, Courtney Halye, 34, who had a history of drug use, according to police reports. Nor has Spirit Airlines said whether and when its 9-year veteran pilot was drug tested, though the company said it follows the law.

“I’d be surprised if he went through there nine years and never got tested, but it could happen,” said Shawn Pruchnicki, an Ohio State University Center for Aviation Studies lecturer, former Comair Airlines pilot and pharmacist who is trained in toxicology. “It’s a numbers game.”

Federal regulations require airlines to administer pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, random, post-accident, reasonable cause and follow-up testing for drugs and alcohol, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said.

“In other words, there are several times during a pilot’s air transport career when he or she will be tested,” said Elizabeth Cory, an FAA spokeswoman, by email.

But the exact operating specifications that cover each airline’s operations, including crew training, testing, and oversight are proprietary, Cory said, and cannot be released under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

A Centerville police spokesman said the department reached out to Spirit Airlines as part of the investigation, but could not elaborate on the nature of contact. Officer John Davis, the department spokesman, said whether the pilot used drugs during his time as an airline pilot is not the main focus of the death investigation.

“That’s a whole other issue for people to worry about,” Davis said. “Right now we’re trying to get a full picture of what led up to (the deaths) and how things occurred.”

Spirit Airlines said the carrier operates “with the highest degree of safety” and is “fully compliant” with FAA and U.S. Department of Transportation regulations regarding drug use and testing on “safety-sensitive employees,” including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and dispatchers.

“In the event that someone in a safety sensitive position tests positive, they would be immediately removed from their position,” airline spokesman Paul Berry said in an email statement. The airline has not addressed the newspaper’s requests for the dates and results of Halye’s drug tests.

Pilot medical exams required by law might not detect drug use either, experts said.

Pilots must possess valid medical certificates to fly. For pilots under age 40, the first-class medical certificate must be updated every 12 months. In Halye’s case, his last medical certificate was issued in September 2016, at which time he would have been required to undergo a medical exam.

But the corresponding medical exam would not have required a drug test, Pruchnicki and other experts said, as urine collected during the exam isn’t tested to detect drugs, but diseases. The OSU lecturer said the cost of drug testing is cost prohibitive and burdensome to pilots who may be victim to false positive results.

“Just because someone tests positive for a drug does not mean you’re under the influence of it,” said Pruchnicki. “There are thousands and thousands of these (medical exams) done per day … (drug tests) would completely bog down the medical systems.”

“From what we’ve seen, drug abuse of medication, illicit medication, is quite small,” he said. “Just sitting in the cockpit, if you smell alcohol, everything comes to a screeching halt. A lot of times, not all the time, you can tell if someone is under the influence of alcohol or heroin or Vicodin.”

Pruchnicki also said all pilots who die in crashes are screened for drugs, but with the exception of some over-the-counter medications “we’ve just never had an accident where someone has tested positive for anything.”

Original article can be found here:

Brian J. Halye

Age 36, of Centerville, Ohio, passed away unexpectedly Thursday Morning, March 16, 2017 at home.

He was born November 26, 1980  in Kettering, son of James & Cindy (Groves) Halye.   On June 29, 2013 in Dayton, Ohio, he married Courtney Castor Halye, who also passed away on March 16, 2017.

Brian worked as a  Pilot Captain for Spirit Airlines, had attended the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and was a 1999 graduate of the Spring Valley academy.

In addition to his parents, other surviving family members are his daughters- Elaina & Lydia Halye, both of Centerville; mother of the children- Rochelle Dyer, Centerville; step-children- Coby & Carly Castor, both at home; sister- Kathleen (Jorge) Delgado, Delaware, OH; brother- Myles (Jessica) Halye, Jamestown; Paternal grandmother- Nayon Halye, Hamburg, PA; maternal grandparents- Clarence & Marge Groves, Flagler Beach, FL; and many loving aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. 

Funeral Services will be held 10 AM, Tuesday, March 21, 2017  at Fisher-Edgington Funeral Home, 97 West Locust Street at North Mulberry Street, Wilmington with Pastor Roy Lawinsky  officiating.  Interment will follow in the Miller Cemetery, Wilmington, Ohio.

 Friends will be received from 4-7 PM Monday evening, March 20 at the Fisher-Edgington Funeral Home, Wilmington.

 Contributions may be made to the Wings of Mercy Inc., 100 South Pine Street, Suite #393, Zeeland, MI 49464.  To sign the online guest book, please go to


HALYE (Castor, Casey)

Courtney Ann Age 34 of Centerville, Ohio. Born February 25, 1983 in Kettering, Ohio, died March 16, 2017.

Courtney was a kind loving generous soul. She had a smile that lit up a room which made her very much loved by all her family and friends. 

Courtney was a wonderful nurturing mother to two beautiful children. She is preceded in death by her sister Kelly Casey, husbands Jacob Castor and Brian Halye. 

Courtney is survived by her children Coby and Carly Castor, step-daughters Elaina and Lydia Halye, mother Nancy Casey, her "two dad's" Daniel(Cheryl)Casey and Matthew(Abby)Tyner, grandparents Ann (John) Hogberg and extended family and friends. 

Family will receive friends 4:00PM to 6:00PM Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at the TOBIAS FUNERAL HOME-Far Hills Chapel; where service will be held 6:00PM Tuesday with Jeffrey Campbell of St. John's UCC officiating. 

In lieu of flowers contributions can be made in Courtney's memory to the American Diabetes Association 2555 S. Dixie Dr. Dayton, Ohio 45409.


March 17--Federal Aviation Administration officials said the medical certifications of the deceased Spirit Airlines pilot from Centerville who died of a likely drug overdose were up-to-date but have not said why the agency's publicly-available database used by crash investigators suggests he was unable to fly any aircraft in the United States.

The four children of Brian Halye, a pilot, and Courtney Halye found the couple dead in the bedroom of their Centerville home Thursday in Montgomery County Coroner's Office Director Ken Betz called a "probable accidental drug overdose."

Betz said examinations on the couple have been completed, but a final determination on the cause and manner will take six weeks until toxicology reports are completed. Since Jan. 1, Montgomery County has had 155 accidental drug overdoses, Betz said.

The case attracted national media attention Friday.

Officer John Davis, Centerville Police spokesman, said, "I think maybe just where it occurred, and what occurred, has drawn some attention to that. I know that the speculation as to Mr. Halye's employment has also drawn attention to it. That's not the focus of our investigation at this time."

Investigators have not given any indication the Spirit Airlines pilot used drugs prior to his death. Brian Halye's last flight for the company before his death was March 10, a Spirit Airlines spokesman said.

Questions remain about why a federal database did not show up-to-date information on Brian Halye.

Aviation safety expert Shawn Pruchnicki of Ohio State University told the Dayton Daily News the database is one of the tools used by the National Transportation Safety Board during investigations of air disasters.

The FAA told the Dayton Daily News on Thursday that Brian Halye had a valid first-class medical certificate allowing him to fly. But the agency could not definitively answer why the public database of airmen indicated the certificate expired more than four years ago.

The Dayton Daily News has filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request for Brian Halye's medical certificates.

Pilots must hold valid medical certificates in order to fly. The Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which he held, requires a first-class medical certificate, which must be updated every 12 months for a pilot under the age of 40. Brian Halye was 36.

The FAA database lists Brian Halye's medical certificate date as September, 2011, more than five years ago. No class of pilot is allowed to go that long without a medical exam. Asked Thursday to double check, Cory said Brian Halye's certificate was up-to-date, with it due to expire this fall.

"I'm not sure why the online database does not have that information," Cory said in an email to the Dayton Daily News on Thursday. "The system could be in the process of update."

The database is updated each federal working day at midnight, according to the FAA's website.

Cory said she asked another FAA employee on Thursday to check Brian Halye's medical certification. The employee, a medical doctor, Cory said, "went into the airman's file and looked it up."

"The online database is one of many that we have," she said Friday. "It is a very basic listing of name and certificate. It is separate from an in-depth medical file. It is not the only database we have."

Pruchnicki, a lecturer at OSU's Center for Aviation Studies and a pharmacist, said he's never had a problem seeing his medical certifications in the airmen database.

"I've always been able to pull up my own medicals to see," said Pruchnicki, a former Comair pilot, after hearing about the FAA's response to the newspaper.

The newspaper has asked Spirit Airlines if it is conducting an internal investigation into Brian Halye's death. The airline did not respond at time of publication.

Martin Rottler, also an OSU lecturer, said he did not expect "anything nefarious" was going on with the FAA's records.

"They have several hundred pilot records that are in there," Rottler said. "The carriers and the FAA have better records and far greater records than what you'll find on the FAA database."

Brian Halye had two children from a previous marriage, as did Courtney Halye. Her former husband, Jacob Castor, died in August 2007 from an accidental drug overdose, according to the Montgomery County Coroner's Office.

Two of the children attend Centerville schools. The other two attend Spring Valley Academy.

Spring Valley released a statement Friday that read in part: " ... we are doing all we can to provide all appropriate support for them and all their classmates who are affected by this heartbreaking loss. As a Christian community we take comfort in the promise of ultimate healing, restoration, and resurrection but at the moment we are deeply grieving with our students and their families."

Original article can be found here:

Authorities on Friday were investigating the deaths of a Spirit Airlines pilot and his wife whose bodies were found by their children in their southwestern Ohio home. A coroner said the preliminary cause of death for both appears consistent with a drug overdose.

Pilot Brian Halye, 36, and wife Courtney, 34, were found dead Thursday in a bedroom of their home in Centerville, south of Dayton, police said. 

 The couple's children can be heard on a 911 call after their parents failed to wake them for school.

"They were very cold," their son told a dispatcher while his three sisters can be heard crying in the background. 

 The son added that they found their parents in bed not breathing and that his sisters described their father's face as "pale and there was black lines all over his face."

Spirit Airlines confirmed Friday of Halye's appointment and said his final flight was March 10.

Brian Halye with the couple’s three children

"Captain Halye served at the airline for just over nine years," Spirit Airlines said in a statement, noting that they run random drug and alcohol tests on all employees.

The airlines said anyone who tests positive for drugs is immediately fired. 

 Although authorities are still investigating, they say the deaths appear to be drug-related and are consistent with a heroin or fentanyl overdose. A toxicology report will take four to six weeks.

Centerville police added that the deaths appeared to be drug-related because narcotics paraphernalia was found at the scene.

The director for the Montgomery County Coroner's Office said heroin overdoses have reached "record numbers for January and February."

Courtney Halye's mother, Nancy Casey, said her daughter was a Type 1 diabetic, suffered from depression and was on medication. But Casey, 51, believes heroin or drugs were not a persistent problem in the parents' lives, and added that her daughter was well-liked and described her as "a light in the room."

"I don't know if they decided they were going to party, or went and they got a hold of this bad stuff going around town," she told NBC News, noting that her daughter should not be characterized as an "addict" or "low-life."

But she had a bad feeling after she talked to them earlier in the day.

"I had this dreadful feeling all day," Casey said. "Something was off with her and something was off with him." 

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Brian Halye and son

CENTERVILLE - Four children found their parents – including their airline pilot father – dead Thursday in their Centerville, Ohio, home in what investigators said appears to be the latest incident in a scourge of drug deaths plaguing Montgomery County and Ohio.

The husband, Brian Halye, was an active pilot for Spirit Airlines, flying for them nine years, and captaining a passenger jet as recently as last Friday.

He and his wife, Courtney Halye, were found in a bedroom of their home on East Von Dette Circle, a suburban cul-de-sac.

The deaths appear “drug related due to paraphernalia found at the scene,” Centerville Police Officer John Davis said. Ken Betz, director of the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office, said the incident resembles other opioid cases and “could be consistent with what we’re seeing with fentanyl products in our community.”

“We’ve been talking about this for how long now?” Betz said by phone. “Here I go again … year-to-date, accidental drug overdoses exceeded 160 already this year.”

Official causes of death for the couple have not been released, as a full medical exam will be performed today.

‘They were very cold’

The couple each had two children from previous marriages. In two 911 calls to Centerville police shortly before 8 a.m., the children ages 9 to 13 told dispatchers their parents are on the floor and “not waking up.”

“They were very cold,” said the oldest child, politely answering “yes, ma’am” to the dispatcher as his sisters cried in the background.

The children ran outside the home to relatives as police conducted an investigation. By 10:30, police and emergency response vehicles cleared the usually tranquil neighborhood.

The Halyes purchased their home in summer 2013. The neighborhood, Pellbrook Farm, is just southwest of the Ohio 725-Wilmington Pike intersection. The quiet suburban cul-de-sac features homes valued around $150,000 to $225,000.

Warren County Court records show Brian Halye was divorced in 2011 in a shared parenting case. Courtney Halye was convicted of a felony drug possession charge in 2009, but the case was expunged. Her previous husband Jacob Castor, the father of two of the children, died in 2007 at age 27.

Neighbors were stunned by Thursday’s news.

“There’s never much activity going on over there,” said a neighbor, who declined to be named. Added another neighbor, “That’s what surprises us, because he was an airline pilot, and he flew for Spirit.”

Pilot flew last week

Halye last flew for Spirit on Friday, according to the “ultra low fares” carrier. The pilot’s social media accounts indicate he was based at its Detroit operations center. The airline does not provide service to Dayton International Airport.

“Captain Halye served at the airline for just over nine years,” Paul Berry, the company’s spokesman, said in a statement expressing the company’s sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.

The Dayton Daily News asked Spirit Airlines officials to provide more details about Halye’s last-flown routes and upcoming flights, as well as the dates and results of any drug screenings. Spirit declined to answer.

Federal regulations require employers to administer drug and alcohol testing in pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, random, post-accident, reasonable cause and follow-up situations, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said.

Pilots must hold valid medical certificates in order to fly. The Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which Halye held, requires a first-class medical certificate, which must be updated every 12 months for a pilot under the age of 40. Halye was 36.

The FAA database lists Halye’s medical certificate date as September, 2011, which would mean the certificate expired more than four years ago. Asked to double check, Cory said Halye’s certificate was up-to-date, with it due to expire this fall.

“I’m not sure why the online database does not have that information,” Cory said in an email to the Dayton Daily News. “The system could be in the process of update.”

Dr. Richard Garrison is among the doctors who conducts such tests locally. Garrison said that exam is roughly similar to an annual physical, and also includes vision testing and EKG heart tests for pilots over a certain age. But he said those exams do not include substance-abuse testing.

Drug issues everywhere

Multiple-death overdoses at a single site happened at least four times in Montgomery County in 2016 — including to Jamie Haddix and Darrell Morgan, who were found dead on Christmas Eve. The place where they died, a four-unit apartment building on Wiltshire Boulevard in Kettering, isn’t ground zero in the region’s opioid crisis because there is no ground zero.

“You always hear, ‘It can’t happen in my neighborhood,’ ” said Michael Link, who lives around the corner from the Halyes in Centerville. “But it does.”

Centerville ranked comparatively low on Montgomery County’s 2016 overdose list, with only five residents dying from drug causes, according to preliminary coroner’s data. That’s much lower than comparably sized Trotwood (17), Miamisburg (14) and Riverside (13). But nearly every community in the county had a spot on that list, which included 355 deaths. 

Two of the children attended Centerville’s Tower Heights Middle School and two attended another district. Centerville schools Superintendent Tom Henderson said the district “continues to support friends of the students who were part of this family. Centerville had guidance counselors “on call and on deck as needed.”

Henderson said so many students know each other not only from school, but from sports and other cross-community activities that a tragedy like this can have a wider impact that people might think.

“These two students have come up through our district, so we try to be cognizant of that and get out to the other buildings they’ve attended,” Henderson said. “We’ll be ready (Friday) when students come in, and we’ll be ready when the students (in that family) come back to attend school again.”

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The Federal Aviation Administration and Spirit Airlines “quickly became aware” of pilot Brian Halye’s likely drug overdose death, a spokeswoman for the federal agency said Monday.

Spirit Airlines also released new information to the Dayton Daily News and NewsCenter 7 about how it drug tests pilots, though the company has not said if it is internally investigating Halye’s death.

Halye, 36, of Centerville, and wife Courtney Halye, 34, were found dead Thursday by their four children. Their deaths appear to be drug-related, according to Montgomery County Coroner’s Office Director Ken Betz.

Investigators have not given any indication the Spirit Airlines pilot used drugs before the incident that led to his death. Halye’s last flight for the company before his death was March 10, a Spirit Airlines spokesman said.

Airline explains drug tests

The Dayton Daily News last week asked Spirit Airlines to provide more information about Halye’s employment, including the last route he flew and scheduled flights, the dates and results of any drug screens during and before his employment, and whether the carrier was aware of Halye’s apparent drug use.

The company initially declined to respond, though the Dayton Daily News continued to ask for comment over the weekend. On Monday, Spirit Airlines provided the newspaper with additional details about the airline’s drug policy, but the company did not say if it is internally investigating the matter, or the last time Halye was tested.

“Spirit Airlines is required by federal regulations to operate with the highest degree of safety,” said Spirit Airlines spokesman Paul Berry in an emailed statement.

U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration “regulations require that the airline conduct various drug and alcohol tests on all safety-sensitive employees including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and dispatchers,” Berry said.

“These tests include, but are not limited to, pre-employment, random and reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing. Spirit Airlines is fully compliant with these DOT and FAA regulations,” Berry said.

“In addition, Spirit Airlines has implemented and maintains a number of programs, in cooperation with its pilot union, that exceed any federal mandates, designed to detect, report and assist employees with potential life challenges,” he said.

“In the event that someone in a safety sensitive position tests positive, they would be immediately removed from their position,” Berry said.

FAA database had ‘discrepancy’

The FAA and Spirit Airlines stay in “constant contact,” an FAA spokeswoman said, noting both organizations “quickly became aware” of the pilot’s death.

On Monday, the FAA confirmed the agency’s public database of pilots was updated to reflect the most up-to-date medical information about Halye, following the newspaper’s discovery of a discrepancy in agency records.

Last week, the federal agency’s database of pilots suggested Halye’s last medical certification was issued in September 2011, though the spokeswoman said Halye’s medical certification was up-to-date.

The discrepancy was due to a duplication of files in the agency’s master database when Halye elected not to use his Social Security number when filing his certification, something that “happens occasionally,” according to FAA Spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory.

“The elimination of the Social Security number means the airman was assigned a random number, and ended up with two files in the master database,” Cory said. “They were merged in the master file, which enabled me to answer the question about whether he had an active medical so quickly on Thursday.”

The updated database lists Halye’s last medical certification as September 2016. While a urine sample is taken during the tests, the sample is tested for diseases but not drug use.


MIRAMAR, Fla. (WDTN) – Spirit Airlines, based in Florida, released a written statement after the death of one of their pilots and his wife last week in Centerville from an apparent overdose.

Spirit Airlines Spokesman Paul Berry said:

“Spirit Airlines is required by Federal Regulations to operate with the highest degree of safety. The DOT and FAA regulations require that the airline conduct various drug and alcohol tests on all safety-sensitive employees including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and dispatchers. These tests include, but are not limited to, pre-employment, random and reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing. Spirit Airlines is fully compliant with these DOT and FAA regulations.

In addition, Spirit Airlines has implemented and maintains a number of programs, in cooperation with its pilot union that exceed any federal mandates, designed to detect, report and assist employees with potential life challenges.

In the event that someone in a safety sensitive position tests positive, they would be immediately removed from their position.”

The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office said Thursday Brian Halye, 36 and his wife Courtney Halye, 24 were found dead in their Centerville home after an apparent overdose.

Police said at the time they believed the deaths to be related to the drugs that were found in the home.  There were four children inside the home when the deaths happened.