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Man charged in death tied to heroin use

A 29-year-old Powell man has been charged with negligent homicide on allegations that he provided heroin that led to the death of his neighbor.

Christopher J. Nichols was arrested Friday night as part of a Powell Police Department investigation into the Dec. 4 death of Jeremy W. Ernest, 30.

Ernest was initially taken to Powell Valley Hospital, unconscious and vomiting, around 1:44 a.m. and a roommate overheard a doctor saying he had opiates, a group of drugs that includes heroin, in his system, according to an affidavit from Powell Police Investigator Mike Hall submitted in the case.

Ernest was released from the hospital at 5:10 p.m., but less than an hour and a half later, another 911 call was placed from Ernest’s East Sixth Street apartment complex reporting he was struggling to breathe, Hall wrote.

Hall’s summary of the investigation suggests that after leaving the hospital the first time, Ernest may have ingested black tar heroin — an illegal and highly addictive opiate and depressant.

Ernest was pronounced dead at the hospital at 7:22 p.m.

No obvious cause of death was found in an autopsy and toxicology results will likely not be available for three or four weeks, said Park County Coroner Tim Power. Hall says hospital records indicate Ernest had opiates, benzodiazepines and THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — in his system.

Nichols has been charged with delivering the heroin to Ernest, a felony, and negligent homicide, a misdemeanor charge that alleges Nichols caused Ernest’s death “by conduct amounting to criminal negligence.” Hall quotes Ernest’s roommate, Morgan Wiles, as saying Nichols was slow to call 911 the two times Ernest collapsed and quotes two unnamed informants as saying Nichols admitted he’d provided Ernest with heroin.

Nichols claimed to have warned Ernest that the heroin was strong and he shouldn’t use it all at once, Hall wrote of the informants’ accounts. They recalled Nichols saying “‘the stupid son of a (expletive) wouldn’t listen to me’ or words to that effect,” Hall wrote.

Nichols also faces a third charge of illegally possessing a felony-level amount of anabolic steroids; police allegedly found more than .3 grams of the substance in a safe in Nichols’ bedroom, making the count a felony.

At an initial Monday afternoon appearance in Circuit Court, Nichols acknowledged having the steroids, but said the negligent homicide and heroin delivery charges “were out of the ballpark” and later added “I just think that this is ridiculous.”

In arguing for a lower bond than the $40,000 figure requested by a prosecutor, Nichols said he works as a server, goes to Northwest College as a full-time nursing student and attends church in Clark.

Nichols said unspecified attorneys have told him the individuals referenced in the affidavit are drug addicts or dealers.

“I came out here and I turned my life around, sir, like, been doing good and they (Ernest and Wiles) come over always trying to party and when all this started happening, like, I actually called 911 both times,” Nichols said in a lengthy statement. “Morgan (Wiles) never did anything.”

In contrast, Wiles reportedly told Investigator Hall that he’d insisted Nichols call 911.

When Ernest became sick in the early morning hours of Dec. 4, Nichols wanted Wiles to drag Ernest back to his own apartment next door before calling police, saying his place was “dirty” and that he couldn’t have cops there, Hall wrote of Wiles’ account.

Nichols did call 911, though when officers arrived, he “took an abnormally long time answering the door for an emergency call,” Hall wrote.

Wiles said while at the hospital, he found a small black cellophane-wrapped ball in Ernest’s pocket; Wiles put it back, but told Hall he later argued with Ernest about not using the drug anymore. A cellophane wrapper would be found by police later that night — empty — in Ernest’s bathroom, Hall said.

Wiles told Hall he went to his girlfriend’s residence after Ernest’s initial release from the hospital. Shortly after that, Wiles said his girlfriend got a call from Nichols saying they needed to come back to the apartment for Ernest. Wiles told police he found Ernest unconscious and again insisted Nichols call 911.

Police searched Nichols’ apartment on the morning of Dec. 5 and found steroids but no heroin, according to court records; Hall quotes one of the unnamed informants as saying Nichols had confided that he’d cleaned out his apartment after Ernest’s death.

After arresting Nichols at his workplace at around 9 p.m. Friday, “I started asking Nichols why it took him so long to call 911 for Ernest and why he called Wiles’ girlfriend instead,” Hall wrote. “Nichols didn’t have an answer, but said if we were going to talk about Ernest, he needed an attorney.”

Hall said when he later searched Nichols’ phone, he found all the call and text records from Dec. 4 and the days before were gone. Hall said he did find photos showing marijuana, what looked like crystal methamphetamine, a computer screen referencing heroin and morphine and an image of Nichols holding a piece of foil with a black substance.

Speaking generally of heroin in a Tuesday interview, Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt said “we hear of it, but we don’t see it very often.”

“Heroin is making a comeback nationwide,” he added. “It was kind of replaced or off the radar for awhile with meth and then that became harder to get and we saw the upsurge in prescription (medication abuse), and now with the focus on prescription meds and the lack of availability of other drugs, heroin’s making a comeback.”

In court on Monday, Deputy Park County Attorney Tim Blatt cited Nichols’ limited ties to the area (he’s been here a year), some past misdemeanor criminal charges and a risk to the community in asking Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters for a $40,000 bond.

“Anytime you have a delivery of a controlled substance, that’s a community danger and I think in this particular case, it shows exactly what that danger is to the community,” Blatt said.

Nichols said he was not a flight risk, wanted to complete his Northwest College finals this week and said he’d been “nothing but cooperative” with law enforcement.

“I willingly gave them information, my cell phone, all this stuff,” he said.

Waters went with the prosecutor’s recommendation.

“All these sort of add up to a pretty serious situation, a very concerning situation,” the judge said.

A preliminary hearing, where Waters will weigh if there’s enough evidence for the case to proceed to a trial, has tentatively been set for Monday, Dec. 16.

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17 comments

  • posted by TIP

    December 30, 2013 2:29 am

    My little brother came back to Powell to help me take care of my little boys. He came here sober. He enrolled in college and was trying to better himself. As time went by he started going out and meeting people. After a couple months of hanging out with the ( locals) he wasn't even the same person. He hadnt known Morgan or his nieghbor when he got here only a few months before. He came here to help and died because no one cared to help him. I'm so sorry I ever asked him to come here. He made some bad choices, but he didn't have to die. Indifference , ignorance , selfishness and plain stupidity! Are just as much to blame.

  • posted by Disgusted taxpayer.

    December 17, 2013 4:53 am

    Pretty obvious Powell has a massive drug problem,and has had for years.There are a few locals who have been in the dope business for years around Powell,and the cops have look the other way,making one wonder who gets what in Powell.So glad I left that town.

  • posted by Nicole

    December 16, 2013 12:26 pm

    I think the bigger picture that needs to be seen is what a HUGE problem drugs are in the Powell community. As former resident during my college days, I know first hand how rampant drug abuse is in town. Doesn't the fact that this was the second drug overdose resulting in death within a week raise huge flags about the state of matters in Powell? Drug abuse is getting more and more prevalent, but I don't see much being done to reverse the spread.

  • posted by gf/best friend

    December 14, 2013 11:44 pm

    Chris Nichols did NOT force Ernest to take the heroin. many times i stayed the night with Nichols at his house and Ernest would come wake us up at 2,4 am trying to sell chris drugs. if any of u knew chris like i do u would see he is a good man not a murderer or druggie. he was sober and happy and has a bigger heart than most people.And he was an nwc stdent not a cna yet so if u think he should be drug tested then test all nwc studens. Get and know the facts first not media facts..real facts

  • posted by Life Lesson

    December 14, 2013 11:14 pm

    Stop pointing fingers!!! The guy that died was old enough to know right from wrong. Everyone makes there own outcome in life and you can't blame a situation like this on one person. Remember it all starts at home so if your going to point fingers start from the begining not at the end .

  • posted by A caring citazen

    December 14, 2013 1:10 pm

    Just pray for the familes

  • posted by Boo Bert

    December 14, 2013 11:59 am

    Jeremy died because he invested herion. He was not forced or held against his will to do drugs.but jermey made a willing choice to do them his self. You want to talk about friends if Morgan was such a friend why did he put the herion back in Jeremy's pocket and tell no one. You don't just become a drug addict over night and let,s look at the bigger picture powell valley health care they knew he has herion in his system and don't call the police. To end this Jeremy had more then herion in his system and until the toxicallogy report comes back the cause of death is still unknown .when you play with fire you get burned and now people just want someone to blame for an accidental over dose which happens all the time

  • posted by annonymous

    December 14, 2013 7:37 am

    it was Jeremys choice to take the drugs. No one put a knife to his throat and said DO IT!!! Thats what i dont get, its the addicts choice to do the drugs. Dealers just sale it but they do know the risk. as it states he was warned how bad it was!!. I do not support dealers NOR addicts. but i dont think he should get man slaughter, due to the fact Jeremy KNEW he might die a second time around!!! and it was Jeremys choice to start drugs again if he was a recovery addict!! he choice the wrong crowd.. but still sorry for your loss to his family!! May he Rest In Peace

  • posted by S.K.S

    December 13, 2013 9:21 pm

    Well I'm sure whoever actually had the heroine didn't just "give" the stuff away, and its unfortunate that a person died but they were both breaking the law regardless. Ernest had to go to the hospital for having a bunch of drugs in his system then barely an hour after getting out of the hospital went home and did the rest? I don't think charging Nichols with negligible homicide is necessarily fair but either way he's going to end up behind bars for a long time. And what about Morgan Wiles and these two "informants"?? I hardly think they were just standing around while heroine was being eaten by people, why aren't they being charged with criminal negligence?? My point is the drug problem in park county doesn't come down to one or two people, who knows how many other people bought some from whoever sold it to Ernest. And unfortunately "having a good heart" or not "meaning to hurt anyone" or being a good student trying to have a good life or being sober or whatever else doesn't matter within the confines of the law its about evidence. Elected officials are being convicted of drug related crimes for crying out loud, valedictorians from right here in park county, etc etc etc. There's a reason Justice wears a blindfold.

  • posted by Shelly

    December 13, 2013 4:15 pm

    The article does say nursing student, A real good guy who delivers heroine, that's a good guy who is an positive to our community! NOT.

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