Summit County drug dealer sentenced to 3 years following overdose death |

Summit County drug dealer sentenced to 3 years following overdose death

Dennis John Tierney, 30, was sentenced to three years in the Colorado Department of Corrections for his role in the death of James Nicholas in February. (Photos courtesy of Summit County Sheriff’s Office)

FRISCO — Dennis Tierney, 30, was sentenced Monday to three years in the Department of Corrections for his role in the drug overdose death of James Nicholas, who died in his apartment in February after ingesting a lethal dose of fentanyl-laced heroin.

Tierney, a low-level drug dealer in Summit County, pleaded guilty to felony charges of criminally negligent homicide and unlawful distribution of heroin in Summit County Court in September.

Nicholas, 32, was found dead in his apartment Feb. 6 by his girlfriend, who attempted to revive him using Narcan — a medication commonly used by law enforcement and emergency medical personnel to block the affects of opioids — and called 911.

Nicholas’ phone was subsequently forensically downloaded by the Garfield County Computer Forensics Lab, which returned a number of text message exchanges between Tierney and Nicholas. The messages, which took place between August 2017 and Feb. 5, 2018, detailed prices and times Tierney would go to Denver to pick up heroin. The messages also reveal that Tierney knew of the potentially lethal nature of the product he was selling to Nicholas.

In a text message dated Feb. 1, just days before Nicholas’ death, Tierney told him to “remember this is the fire spitter top shelf (expletive) so you can’t (expletive) around dude seriously.” Another message said, “I won’t be there to help you if something goes wrong.”

A toxicology report later revealed a number of dangerous substances in Nicholas’ system, including fentanyl opiates, morphine, codeine, marijuana and cocaine.

Judge Romeo handed down the maximum sentence allowed by the plea deal.

While the prosecution of drug dealers for their roles in drug-related overdose deaths isn’t common, it’s become an important issue for Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown in recent years.

“Just last week I learned about a heroin overdose of the young, beautiful daughter of a close friend,” said Brown. “The tragedy of overdoses mounts for families across our communities. Anyone who thinks this isn’t about their lives is wrong. Hardly a social circle across the country doesn’t have someone in it who is addicted to opiates and will at some time experience the heartache caused by the untimely death of a young person addicted and cutting short their bright future.”

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, drug overdose deaths have been steadily on the rise for years. In 2007, 728 Colorado residents died from drug-poisoning deaths. By 2017, that number rose to over 1,000.


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