Accused heroin dealer charged in Clark County overdose death

Heroin is typically cooked in a spoon over an open flame, such as a candle, before being injected.
Heroin is typically cooked in a spoon over an open flame, such as a candle, before being injected. Getty Images/Wavebreak Media

A Winchester man is to be arraigned Tuesday in federal court on charges that he caused a death by distributing heroin.

Harold Wayne Salyers was charged last week in U.S. District Court with causing the death of Wade Dickerson in Clark County in August 2012. Salyers made a brief court appearance Friday, but the arraignment was delayed.

Salyers' arrest is at least the third recent case in which a person in Kentucky has faced federal charges for causing a death by illegally distributing a drug. The case is an example of two things: it centers around heroin, a drug that has recently resurfaced in Northern Kentucky and has spread to other parts of the state, and federal prosecutors have used an unusual charge that carries a severe penalty to deal with the case.

Under federal law, there is a mandatory minimum 20-year prison sentence, and a maximum sentence of life, when an overdose death is linked to a drug dealer.

Kerry B. Harvey, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said in an interview Friday that similar cases also are under investigation.

A year or two ago, Harvey said his office made a commitment to put a particular focus on overdose deaths.

"What we hope to do is to convey the message to drug dealers that they are taking a real risk with not only the lives of the people that they sell this poison to, but also with their own lives," he said, citing the stiff prison sentence.

Harvey said his office is working with other officials, including first responders and coroners, "to detect these cases and to develop the proof necessary to obtain convictions."

Other law enforcement and health officials in Kentucky have reported a spike in the number of fatal heroin overdoses in recent months, and they have been working to reduce the number of cases. In Lexington, a task force is addressing the problem.

Heroin has replaced prescription pain pills as the drug of choice in other parts of the state for the past several months. Officials have attributed the increase in heroin use to successful efforts to curb abuse of prescription pills. Police have previously said it is cheaper to buy heroin on the street than it is to buy pain pills.

Federal court records did not elaborate on the charges against Salyers. He also faces a charge of distributing and possessing heroin from 2012 until this month, according to federal court records.

Salyers, 53, already faces charges in state court in connection with Dickerson's overdose death.

In November, the Winchester Sun reported that a Clark District Court judge reduced a murder charge against Salyers to reckless homicide and sent the case to a grand jury. An indictment had not been filed in state court as of Friday, a court clerk told the Herald-Leader.

In another pending case in federal court, Anthony A. Lacortiglia has pleaded not guilty to distributing heroin that caused the May 2012 death of John M. Latham in Pulaski County, records said. Federal officials also have filed the charge in a death involving oxycodone.

In that case, Judy McIntosh has appealed the 27-year federal prison sentence she received in October. McIntosh had pleaded guilty to charges that included distributing oxycodone that caused the 2010 death of Ashley Ritchie, according to court records.

During a transaction on Oct. 2, 2010, McIntosh sold oxycodone pills to Ritchie, 19, who died later that evening at McIntosh's home in Breathitt County, according to a news release posted last year on the website of the anti-illegal drug organization Operation Unite.

A medical examiner's report established the cause of death as an oxycodone overdose, the news release said.