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Pete Hautzinger, Mesa County DA On Bath Salts Case: 'I Will Not File Criminal Charges'

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This photo, courtesy of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, depicts what a packet of bath salts can look like.
This photo, courtesy of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, depicts what a packet of bath salts can look like.

Authorities say they won't file charges against the friends of a Grand Junction teen who was strangled to death at a party after having ingested the synthetic compounds known as "bath salts."

On April 10, friends of Daniel J. Richards, 19, reportedly rushed him to the hospital 15 minutes after he became non-responsive in a choke hold.

Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said that an investigation shows Richards had purchased "several hundreds of dollars' worth" of bath salts before the party consisting of about 10 peers aged 18-20.

According to investigators, Richards was out of control and exhibited an "explosion of violence" at the party, attempting to punch the home-owner before pulling out a 12-inch-long knife. Trying to subdue Richards, friends told investigators they tackled him to the ground and applied a choke hold around his neck.

After appearing to calm down, Hautzinger said Richards jumped up and tried to continue fighting before friends took him down a second time and that's when he "appeared to go to sleep."

Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, the Grand Junction Police Department said they did not have a photo of Richards and that the friend or friends who caused the strangulation are not being named because they are not being charged with a crime though the death was ruled a homicide.

"But you have to taken into account that homicide simply means the killing of a person by another person. It does not mean there was intent and it's not the same thing as murder," said Kate Porras, the public information coordinator for the Grand Junction Police Department.

In addition to the presence of Alpha-PVP bath salts in Richards' system, the Mesa County Coroner's Office toxicology report also found marijuana and a blood-alcohol level of 0.067 percent.

“It’s a real tragedy and one so easily prevented,” Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper told the Grand Junction Sentinel. “The effect of this drug in many cases is worse than methamphetamine and cocaine.”

Porras said that this is the first bath salts-related death police have seen in Mesa County.

"It's something we've seen growing in the last year or so," Porras said.

Indeed many authorities in western Colorado were only briefed on how to spot bath salts and its effects a few weeks ago.

Just one month after Richards' death, in early June, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill establishing criminal penalties for the use, possession, distribution or manufacturing of cathinones, the dangerous chemical used in bath salts. The drug had been sold in smoke shops, head shops and even gas stations in Colorado up until it was signed into law three weeks ago.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), cathinones, or bath salts, are a central nervous system stimulant sold in a white or off-white powder or capsule form under names like "Vanilla Sky," "White Knight," "Lunar Wave" and others. Like other drugs, they can be ingested by snorting, injection, orally or by smoking.

Bath salts users can experience delusions, paranoia (recall the recent case of a man in Atlanta who threatened to eat people on a golf course after ingesting bath salts or the shocking Miami case of Rudy Eugene who was widely believed to be on some form of synthetic drugs when he at the face of Ronald Poppo) a rapid heart rate that may lead to heart attacks, strokes or panic attacks.

Hautzinger said that Richards' family is upset with the decision to not file charges but said that an investigation concluded the strangulation did not involve criminal intent.

"This was not a crime. It was not an intent to cause this persons death. It was an intent to try to prevent him from hurting himself or others," Hautzinger said, adding that he would have had to prove that the defendant had recklessly or intentionally engaged in behavior causing death in order to file charges of manslaughter.

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