Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Finally: Greenwich Cops Reopen Bria Drug Death Case
Stamford Advocate & Greenwich Time
BACKGROUND column follows article
Police reopen fatal overdose case
By Martin B. Cassidy
February 13, 2008
Three years after closing the case, police are reinvestigating the 2004 fatal overdose of a Greenwich teenager following a civil suit they say has raised questions about whether drug or other charges are warranted.
Police reopened their probe after information from a civil case showing prescription and illegal drugs in John Bria III's blood as well as civil court affidavits an attorney for Bria's family said show inconsistent statements.
The evidence is from a separate suit against friends who were at a party at the young man's Pemberwick home the night he died, police Chief David Ridberg said. Bria, 19, was found dead by his father in his basement bedroom around 3 p.m. on Jan. 16, 2004.
Three years ago, then-Chief James Walters said the case had been closed without making any arrests, with investigators finding there was no criminal fault by the youths.
In March 2004, the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner determined that Bria died of accidental heroin and cocaine toxicity.
After the case was closed, Bria's parents challenged police to reopen it, arguing the fatal overdose was due to a lethal stew of prescription and other drugs provided by his teenage friends.
"I had been thinking about (the case) for a while and the family had garnered more information during the civil case that led to us taking another look at the old case," Ridberg said. "We decided it warranted more investigation."
"We are looking into whether there is any criminal culpability in his death," Ridberg said.
The youths who attended Bria's party that night are included in the probe, Ridberg said.
Ridberg said police also are continuing a criminal investigation into the death of Kyle Lendenmann, a 17-year-old Greenwich High School student, found dead at his home on Feb. 23 of last year of what authorities said was a methadone overdose.
"We're in discussions with prosecutors on how to go about bringing both cases to a successful conclusion," Ridberg said.
Stamford police two weeks ago quickly charged a man with first-degree manslaughter for allegedly providing drugs and failing to call 911 when Dr. Ian Rubins, a Greenwich plastic surgeon, became ill from an overdose. Rubins later died.
Leonard Bajramaj, 32, of Stamford, has pleaded not guilty in that case.
Stephan Seeger, a lawyer for Bria's family, said he provided Ridberg with the toxicological results as well as civil court affidavits in which witnesses made statements that are inconsistent with those initially given to police.
The new evidence is drawn from a lawsuit filed by Bria's parents in state Superior Court in Stamford in 2005. Named in the civil suit are Katie Hanscom, Savannah Lamotte, Megan Caron and Jason Cunningham, four youths who spent time with Bria the night of his death, and Cunningham's mother, Donna Cunningham, who picked up her son the morning after the party.
The suit alleges the four youths gave Bria illegal and/or prescription drugs at the party. It also alleges that the defendants, except for Lamotte, worked to cover up rather than notify Bria's parents, police, paramedics or anyone who could render Bria medical assistance.
Last year Bria's family won a legal victory when a Stamford judge ruled against a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, finding that those who provide fatal doses of illegal drugs can be civilly responsible for injuries and deaths.
Eugene Riccio, an attorney for Caron, said his client was not responsible for Bria's death and had not been contacted by police for additional information."I firmly believe as to the claims against Ms. Caron that this lawsuit is without any basis," Riccio said. "I understand that John Bria's death was a terrible tragedy but Ms. Caron does not bear any responsibility whatsoever for it."
Katherine Nietzel, the Stamford-based attorney for Jason and Donna Cunningham, said there was no evidence that Jason Cunningham provided Bria with drugs. She said Donna Cunningham picked up her son at Bria's home the morning after the party and had no knowledge of the overdose.
Nietzel has filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the Cunninghams from the case arguing that there is no evidence to support the claim that her clients' actions contributed to Bria's death.
"I'm hard pressed to see how any of the activity that night renders any of the parties present there culpable," Nietzel said. John Meerbergen, who represents Hanscom, said his client also would seek to have the suit against her dismissed.
"Katie Hanscom has no culpability whatsoever," Meerbergen said. "There is absolutely no evidence she gave anyone anything."
Lamotte's attorney, Jack Slane, of Heagney, Lennon &Slane in Greenwich, said his client was at Bria's home for 10 minutes the night of the party before leaving.
"That was the extent of her involvement at the party," Slane said. "Furthermore I will say her testimony in the civil deposition was identical to two statements she gave to police without the benefit of counsel."
John J. Bria Jr., Bria's father, declined to comment on the new police investigation or the particulars of the civil case.
Drug Immunity Zone In Greenwich?
By ANDY THIBAULT, Columnist
Law Tribune Newspapers
September 26, 2005
John J. Bria III, 19, joined a fitness club and hired a personal trainer while studying music production in Florida. Friends and family described him as health conscious.
The young man grew up in the Byram section of Greenwich, on the New York border. This part of Greenwich is much like any town: Houses are close together, families know each other and they work at real jobs. Byram is not a high-income area -- unlike other parts of Greenwich that help make Connecticut the top per capita income state in the nation. Some of Bria's friends were from Byram and others were from that larger universe where parents run bug chunks of the country, from Wall Street to Hollywood.
Bria earned an associate's degree. He sent out resumes while working for his father's landscaping business. He had an internship at a recording studio. Prospects looked bright.
It all changed forever beginning on Jan. 15, 2004. Bria was not known to be a major drug abuser. But, in the next 24 hours, plenty of drugs -- including Prozac, cocaine, marijuana and Clonezepam, an anti-seizure medication -- were brought to the Bria house.
One of Bria's friends, Savannah Lamotte, would tell police about their activities that evening: "Maria and Jason picked me up around 9 p.m. … We went to Shell and got some cigarettes, and then we went somewhere to shoot some heroin. We then went to get some cocaine …We went back to Shell and got some other stuff, and we went to shoot up some more heroin somewhere. The we went to John's house. When we got to John's house, Katie, Megan and John were all there."
Katie Hanscom, Megan Caron and Jason Cunningham were high school friends of Bria. Maria Scinto, also in the group, is from nearby Port Chester, N.Y.
Cunningham would tell police that during the day, Bria "was feeling really high from the pills that Megan had given him."
As the night wore on, most of the group left. Cunningham stayed behind, calling his mother about 4 a.m. She arrived to pick him up about 8:30 a.m. Bria had been dead for several hours by that time. Jason told Bria's father that his son was still sleeping.
"John was always a late sleeper, so I didn't think anything of it," the father told me. John Bria Jr. had arisen about 6 a.m. to work on files in his home office. He took a nap later that morning and arose mid-day. After taking a shower, he tried to call his son on the intercom. He went downstairs and saw his son's door wide open. John Bria III was lying on the bed on his left side with his head on the pillow. He was fully clothed. There was a small silver pipe on his pillow next to his head. There were no ashes on the pillow.
It looked like the room had been set up. Credit cards were left conspicuously on a nightstand, on an armrest, on an amplifier. Several ashtrays were empty or wiped clean.
An autopsy revealed heroin and cocaine in Bria's body. The medical examiner who conducted it resigned in disgrace after taking a bribe in another case. His findings have been challenged. Later tests found codeine in Bria's body. More lab results are expected.
The Bria estate has sued the partygoers and Cunningham's mother for, among other things, failing to notify anyone that young Bria had overdosed.
The family is also pressing Greenwich police to re-open the investigation. Police found a sealed cellophane wrapper containing 19 Prozac pills and 6 Clonezepam in the Bria bedroom, along with eight glyceine bags containing drug residue. In some cases these facts could generate arrests on charges from drug possession and sale up to homicide.
Could the Bria youth have been saved? It's possible. Are the police intimidated because Caron's father, Glenn Caron, creator of the TV series Moonlighting, is a Hollywood big shot? It wouldn't be the first time Greenwich cops backed off from a celebrity.