Montville overdose could have been prevented, mother and fiancee say
Christopher Earl Soper's daughter, Sawyer, was born three months after a neighbor found his body at the end of his driveway on Lake Road in Montville.
He was 32 when he died Sept. 30, 2018, from the combined effects of fentanyl and alcohol.
His mother, Janet Lynch of Preston, confirmed his identify at the scene, though she now wishes she had not seen her son that morning. Soper was lying by the driver's side back tire of a Jeep SUV, his face on the paved driveway, which was wet with his vomit.
A police report indicates he was cool to the touch, his blood had pooled in the parts of his body touching the ground and his joints and muscles had stiffened fully due to rigor mortis.
There were no signs of foul play or suicide.
Soper was one of 1,108 Connecticut residents to die from an accidental overdose that year, according to statistics from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
There were 1,200 unintentional drug overdose deaths in the state in 2019, and the opioid crisis has tightened its grip during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in what Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday is a 20% increase in fatal overdoses in Connecticut. The medical examiner's office had confirmed 560 overdose deaths through mid-June and said an additional 275 were pending toxicology confirmation.
Every person who died was somebody's son or brother or fiancé or father, and the collateral damage on society is mounting, said Tammy de la Cruz, president of the addiction awareness group Community Speaks Out.
She said her heart breaks for Soper's family.
Lynch said she decided to call The Day with her son's story after learning that two people who were with her son the night he died were arrested Aug. 10 in Ledyard with fentanyl and needles in their possession.
The two of them went to Soper's funeral, but Lynch said they've never apologized for leaving her son alone that night.
She said she's afraid they'll leave somebody else to die.
'Let's do it quick'
Soper's fiancée, Danielle Alloway, said during an interview at The Day on Monday that he was clean when they started dating in 2017 and became like a father to her two kids. He was excited about the birth of his first biological child and had a big belly at Danielle's gender reveal party on Aug. 18, 2018, which confirmed to her and his mother that Soper had not been using heroin. He always put on weight when he was clean.
But his mother, who also met with The Day on Monday, said she had heard through the grapevine that Soper occasionally used cocaine when he was drinking. And on the night of Sept. 29, while his fiancée was visiting her mother in Norwich, Soper was drinking with his sister and friends in Montville and decided he wanted cocaine and to go to a bar.
Alloway still has Soper's Samsung phone, which police found on the road during the investigation of his death. Around 10 p.m., he exchanged texts with a friend, Shane Clemons, saying he had about $100 to spend on drugs.
"Let's do it smart. And let's do it quick," Soper texted. At 10:41 p.m., Clemons texted him back, saying, "Call me ASAP."
Clemons and his girlfriend, Ashli Elliott, picked up Soper around 11 p.m. and the two men snorted fentanyl, which they may have thought was heroin, while sitting in Clemons' Toyota pickup. Elliott told state police Soper was "messed up" when they dropped him off in his neighborhood, at the intersection of Oxoboxo Cross Road and Lake Drive.
Elliott called 911 at 12:05 a.m. and reported seeing a drunk man stumbling and falling on the road off Lake Drive East. At 12:08 a.m. and 12:09 a.m., she attempted to call Soper's fiancée on Facebook Messenger. Alloway didn't see the calls until the next morning.
Elliott later told state police Detective Sean M. Velazquez that she and Clemons didn't stay with Soper because Clemons was high on drugs and had outstanding arrest warrants.
Connecticut lawmakers passed a Good Samaritan Law in 2011 that protects people who call 911 seeking emergency medical services for an overdose from arrest for possession of drugs. The law doesn't protect the caller from other charges or stop the police from serving a search or arrest warrant if it was already in process.
When he was arrested a month later on charges of failure to appear in court, Clemons told Velazquez that Soper was very drunk when they picked him up. Clemons said he couldn't get in touch with his cocaine contact. He said Soper already had heroin on him, and that he and Soper each used two bags and they drove to the 7-11 in Franklin to get gas and Red Bull drinks.
Clemons said the "heroin" they used was stronger than normal and he suspected it contained fentanyl. He said he was having a hard time keeping his eyes open and driving, so he told Soper he had to bring him home. When they dropped Soper off, Clemons said Soper was slurring his words and said he wanted to do a third bag of heroin. Clemons said Soper told him to call him in five minutes, and if he didn't answer, to call Alloway. He said he tried calling Soper a couple of times, and that Elliott called 911 when Soper didn't answer.
At 12:09 a.m., Clemons texted Soper, "I can't get ahold of anyone hit me up in a.m."
Clemons told the detective he couldn't justify not providing police with more information, or staying at the scene.
Soper's mother said the person she is maddest at is her son. But Lynch also said her son might have survived if Clemons and Elliott had stayed with him, or if the police had looked harder for him when Elliott called 911. Two patrolmen searched the area, but found nothing, according to a police report.
"If Ashli had told them he was probably overdosing on fentanyl, they probably would have looked harder," Lynch said.
'Not a healthy relationship'
Detective Vazquez briefed Norwich prosecutor Christa L. Baker on the Soper death investigation for a possible charge of cruelty to persons against Clemons and Elliott. Baker declined to prosecute the case. State's attorneys typically don't prosecute cases unless they are confident they can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Clemons and Elliott did not return messages seeking comment. Elliott was charged Aug. 10 with possession of narcotics and possession of drug paraphernalia. Clemons was charged with possession of narcotics, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving with a suspended license.
De la Cruz, from Community Speaks Out, said she would probably feel the way Lynch does, that someone should be held responsible, had her son died from an overdose. And she knows the agony of losing a child. Her son, Joey Gingerella, had struggled with an opioid pill addiction but was drug-free when he was fatally shot on Dec. 11, 2016.
But de la Cruz said she's also worked with people in addiction who were with others when they died, and that their guilt takes a terrible toll on them.
"When you're in active addiction, and you're using with people, there is no real friendship there," she said. "It's not a healthy relationship. Their life is chaos. How do you get someone to think logically when they're in active addiction?"
She said the use of fentanyl remains a huge problem, and the isolating and depressing nature of the coronavirus pandemic has made the problem worse.
De la Cruz said recovery beds for those who are uninsured are scarce right now, but the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Service has urged people who need help to call 1 (800) 563-4086, and has said somebody would pick them up and drive them to a detox facility if there wasn't an open bed nearby.
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