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Spirit Airlines pilot and wife overdosed, report confirms

CENTERVILLE, Ohio — A toxicology report confirmed a drug overdose as the cause of death for a Spirit Airlines pilot and his wife, who were found dead in their southwest Ohio home on March 16.

Brian J. Halye, 36, a pilot with Spirit Airlines and his wife, 34-year-old Courtney A. Halye, were found dead in a bedroom of their home by their children, officials said.

Brian J. Halye, 36, and 34-year-old Courtney A. Halye died as a result of “cocaine and carfentanil intoxication,” said Dr. Kent Harshbarger, the Montgomery County coroner, in a report released Tuesday.

The painkiller carfentanil, a version of fentanyl, is 10,000 times stronger than morphine. It is used commercially to sedate large animals, such as elephants, and drug dealers use it to cut heroin and increase their supply.

The toxicology report notes that husband and wife suffered pulmonary edema, “which is fluid in the lungs, basically, a classic characteristic of an opiate intoxication,” Harshbarger said.

According to Officer John Davis of the Centerville Police Department, the Halyes left behind a “blended family”: two 11-year-old girls, a 10-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy. The children are now with other family members.

The morning of March 16, police responded to two 911 calls placed by the children, Davis said. As the boy spoke to a dispatcher, his sisters’ cries could be heard in the background.

“My two parents are on the floor. My sisters say they are not waking up,” the boy said. Asked whether they were breathing, he responded, “I don’t think so,” and “they were very cold.”

Paul Berry, a Spirit Airlines spokesman, confirmed Thursday that Capt. Brian Halye had served the airline for just over nine years.

“His final Spirit flight was on March 10, ten days before his death,” Berry wrote in an email, adding that “Spirit Airlines is fully compliant” with federal regulations.

Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation regulations include random drug and alcohol testing for pilots. The drugs for which tests are required are marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP) and opiates.

“Our hearts go out to the family, friends, and colleagues of Captain Halye,” Berry said.

A county struggles with epidemic

Davis said the investigation into the Halyes’ deaths is ongoing “to try to determine where this stuff came from.”

Montgomery County has a high rate of overdose deaths per capita, he said.

For 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 52,404 deaths in the United States due to drug overdoses, including 33,091 (or 63%) involving an opioid. An Ohio government report notes that drug overdoses caused the deaths of 3,050 state residents in 2015. Montgomery County contributed 239 of those deaths.

According to Harshbarger, overdose deaths in Montgomery County “generally have gone up or stayed the same from the year before” since about 2013, yet in 2017, overdose deaths are “way up.”

By the end of May, estimates indicate that the county has already reached last year’s total of 349 overdose deaths, with the majority — 251 — screening positive for fentanyl, Harshbarger said.

Fentanyl hit the area in October 2012, he said, and at that time, it was often mixed with heroin.

“Now, we are almost all fentanyl or a fentanyl analog like carfentanil,” Harshbarger said. Montgomery County ranks near the top nationwide in terms of both use and death rates. “It is believed to be related to the north-south and east-west highways that meet here,” he said.

Davis describes Centerville as “a very nice town. We’re an upper-middle-class community, primarily a bedroom community.”

“This stuff is everywhere,” he said. “There’s not a community that’s immune from it, and it knows no demographics, and that’s probably the hardest thing for anyone to wrap their head around.

“The average age is 35 and 38 years old, so how do you target that audience?” Davis asked. He added that in the past, programs in schools could target those at risk — teenagers and young adults — but “these are grown adults.”

Another difference is the motivation. “Once they’re addicted, they’re not taking the drugs for the high feeling; they’re taking the drugs so they don’t get what they call dope sick,” Davis said, adding that he’s been told withdrawal is “quite excruciating.”

“It’s a totally different animal than what we’re used to,” he said. “We’re seeing crimes that we would never see before. I mean, these people, they’re doing desperate things.”