Mother implicated in drug overdose deaths of 4; Charged with murder

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- A former Cherry Creek Schools teacher's aid has been arrested and is accused of giving prescription drugs to young adults -- some of who died after an overdose.

Almeda Sullivan, 50, was arrested earlier this week. She is being held in the Arapahoe County Detention Center on a first-degree murder charge.

According to her arrest affidavit, Sullivan gave pain medication to numerous young adults -- many of who were habitual drug users.  Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler called the investigation in to Sullivan "unprecedented" in its scope.

Investigators have linked Sullivan to four deaths since early 2008 including: Carter Higdon, 21; Sierra Cochran, 19; Lindsey Saidy, 28; and Martynas "Tez" Simanskas, 20.

Two of the four deceased were found in Sullivan's home, police said.

"The common denominator in all these deaths is one person and that's Almeda Sullivan," Brauchler said.

Sullivan would supervise her buyers and show them how to crush the drugs to make them more potent, investigators said.

Often she would give buyers a drug called Opana, a schedule II controlled substance that has a high potential for abuse.  Opana is a powerful narcotic that includes a time-released mechanism to keep the user from overdosing. Addicts who grind and snort the pills do so in order to defeat the time-delay.

"It was more than just providing them with these specific drugs," Brauchler said. "It was showing them how to break them up and snort them in a way to defeat the time-lapse nature of these drugs so they got an immediate high and had a greater impact for these drugs."

"She wanted these kids to get high. She wanted to help them get high and she knew the risks of using drugs in this matter," he added.

Sullivan worked for the Cherry Creek School District from 2003 to 2005 as a bus driver and teacher's aide, records show.

Many of the accounts listed in the affidavit mention how buyers would make contacts though Sullivan's daughter who attended Cherry Creek High School. It's not know if Sullivan used her position at the school to contact students and get them to use drugs.

"This is someone who strikes me as the cool mom or older person in the community who liked to be surrounded by young people and liked to have them dependent on her," Brauchler said.

Sullivan charged with first-degree murder in young man's death

The murder charge against Sullivan is related to the overdose death of Carter Higdon, who was found in a basement bedroom at Sullivan's Centennial home on East Bentley Circle in October 2011.

According to the affidavit, the Arapahoe County Coroner ruled his death the result of mixed drug toxicity. The coroner found elevated concentrations of Oxymorphone (also called Opana) and alcohol as well as traces of Alprazolam (also known as Xanax), Trazodone and marijuana.

Sullivan told deputies that she and Higdon were longtime friends and that she had brought him to her house the night he died because he was feeling depressed. According to the affidavit, she told investigators that Higdon fell asleep on the bed and appeared fine the next morning.

Around 1 p.m. the same day, Sullivan went downstairs to wake Higdon up and found him foaming at the mouth and unresponsive, she said according to the affidavit.

Detectives said they received a tip from two friends of Higdon who claimed they "were not surprised that Higdon died in Sullivan's house as she has been selling prescription pills to Higdon for years," the affidavit said. "Sullivan is addicted to prescription pills and sells them to everybody that she feels she has control over," the tipsters said.

In an interview with detectives, Sullivan admitted that she "distributed her pills to several individuals in an effort to survive financially and she sold her pills on less than thirty occasions," the affidavit said.

She admitted to selling drugs to Higdon in the past, but claimed the day he died "they were just talking and all he had consumed was one Xanax."

Other friends of Sullivan told investigators that she and Higdon hung out "thousands of times," that Sullivan was "often trying to push people to the brink of what their bodies could physically handle for drug use and then would try to 'bring them back,'" the affidavit said.

Investigators said Sullivan lied about how she discovered how he died, tried to cover-up the scene and then failed to call for help for hours.

Other drug-overdose deaths linked to Sullivan

After Higdon's death, investigators realized that they had been to Sullivan's home before investigating a drug overdose.

Sierra Cochran, died in January 2008. She was found in an upstairs bedroom of Sullivan's home.

The coroner found Cochran died of the combined effects of cocaine, Oxycodone, Diazepam and Nordiazepam found in her system.

Investigators did not find enough evidence to charge Sullivan, but as they continued to question her associates they discovered two other drug overdose cases in 2008 where the victims were connected to Sullivan.

Lindsey Saidy, 28, was found dead of a drug overdose in her Englewood home in February 2008.

According to the affidavit, Saidy's aunt told investigators that Saidy had frequent contact with Sullivan. The aunt also said Sullivan knew another man who died on the same day named Martynas "Tez" Simanskas.

Simanskas, 20, was found dead at his Centennial home again of an apparent drug overdose. The corner found traces of Oxycodone, Alprazolam, Benzoylecgonine and marijuana in his body.

Two friends of Simanskas admitted to investigators that the three had "snored multiple prescription drugs and marijuana throughout the evening the night before Simanskas' death," the affidavit said.

A search of his phone found Simanskas had frequently called Sullivan and "during an interview, Sullivan admitted she sold Simanskas unknown drugs the night of 2/11/08 (within 15 hours of his death) at her residence," the affidavit said.

The other three victims had allegedly met Sullivan through her daughter and graduated from Cherry Creek High School.

Sullivan obtained thousands of pills, kept a tab for customers

Detectives searched the Colorado Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and found "Sullivan was receiving excessive amounts of schedule II narcotics, specifically Opana, from multiple doctors at the same time," the affidavit said.

From 2007 to 2011 she received 21,580 schedule II prescription pills by using fake names, including her dead husband, the affidavit said.

The affidavit also lists several accounts of friends of the four deceased who all claimed she would sell prescription drugs to young people.

One witness said Sullivan had a dry erase board on her refrigerator that she used to keep a running tab for her customers, the affidavit said.

Another account was from a woman who bought drugs from Sullivan and would stay at her house. The buyer told police "she overdosed at Sullivan's house to the point she believed she was going to die 15-20 times," the affidavit said.

The woman "described being so incoherent that she would go in and out of consciousness on the couch." After waking up, the woman said Sullivan would feed her more pills.

Sullivan also has a medical education including a degree in Respiratory Care from Jackson State Community College and a bachelor's degree in Health Care Administration from Southern Illinois University.

Sullivan would have completed clinical rotations and took classes in pharmacology, respiratory care and anatomy, the affidavit said.

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