Drug suspects to face trial
When two people are caught in a hospital room with heroin, is one supplying the other with the drug or are they both selling it together?
That question dominated the preliminary hearing on Wednesday for a Cresson man who UPMC Altoona police allege had heroin, a syringe and close to $800 in cash underneath him as he lay in a gown in his hospital bed on Oct. 6.
Robert A. Myers, 42, had been admitted to the hospital earlier in the day through the emergency room, and about 7:30 p.m., a nurse reported to hospital police that she saw someone hand a silver container to Myers and place it under his nose, according to testimony Wednesday before Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker.
UPMC Altoona police officer Christopher Tirpak told the court he walked into the room and saw Justine Crook, 27, of Portage, grab her purse and try to stuff what turned out to be a glass pipe further up her sleeve. Police said Crook also had a syringe up her sleeve.
A search of Crook’s purse, change purse and backpack allegedly turned up scales and empty bags, and she had heroin in her pocket. When police had Myers roll over so they could search his bed, an officer allegedly found several plastic bags with a powdery substance, a syringe and his wallet with $781 in it, Tirpak said.
Defense attorney Ed Zang hammered away at the prosecution’s case, picking apart Tirpak’s expertise when it came to drugs and objecting to Tirpak’s testimony when it came to the amount of heroin.
Tirpak told the court that the heroin was weighed using the scales found on Crook, so Auker sustained Zang’s objection and said the weight gleaned from the use of the scales could not be used as evidence in the hearing. A report from the state police crime lab — where the drugs were sent for testing — would show the weight had not come back yet, Tirpak said.
Zang argued that having heroin in his hospital bed, along with a syringe, was indicative of a drug user, and there was no evidence Crook and Myers were conspiring to sell drugs.
Zang said there was no evidence the $781 in Myers’ wallet was connected to any drug dealing.
Zang said the evidence of drug dealing — scales and empty bags — were on Crook.
“All the indicia of drug selling was in her bag and her belongings,” Zang said. “The only thing they can infer is he was there using these drugs found in his possession.”
Assistant District Attorney Derek Elensky argued the two were together and one may have had the scales and packaging and the other the money and the drugs, but that didn’t mean they weren’t working together to sell drugs.
In a bail modification hearing for Myers on March 22, prosecutors told the court that police recovered about 7 grams of heroin, equal to a couple hundred heroin packets, but that evidence couldn’t be presented at Myers’ hearing on Wednesday. Police also did not distinguish how much heroin was on Crook as opposed to the two bags of heroin found in Myers’ bed.
Auker did send the conspiracy and possession with intent to deliver charges, along with possession and drug paraphernalia charges, on to Blair County Court, saying it would be up to the jury or judge at the common pleas court level to weigh the evidence.
Auker conceded that Zang made a good argument about where the drugs and money came from that appeared in Myers’ bed and it would be for a higher court to sort it out.
“But the testimony is clear, drugs and money were found,” Auker said.