WILSON, N.C. (WNCN) — A Wilson County drug dealer might well spend the rest of his life in prison following a deadly heroin overdose which killed one of his customers.
A federal judge sentenced 66-year-old Elton Wayne Walston to 27 years in prison for multiple heroin-related charges including one count of distributing heroin resulting in death. Timothy Barkley died March 27, 2015 from an overdose.
Barkley’s brother Mike said he had no idea Tim used the drug. Tim Barkley was a registered nurse who worked in a drug abuse center for several years, and Mike learned during Walston’s trial that Barkley first started to get high from heroin three or four months before his death.
“Users and addicts have a disease and share in the responsibility of what outcomes happen,” Mike Barkley said.
“My brother made bad choices. We all understand that, but at the same time, the dealer is sitting there peddling something relatively inexpensive that you can die with one bad bag, one bad reaction.”
Wilson Police investigators identified Walston as the dealer and charged him with second-degree murder. It turned into a federal case. United States Attorney Robert Higdon said there will be more like this.
“The president and the (United States) attorney general have made it clear that we will defeat the heroin and opioid crisis, and this prosecution is one example of our role on the front lines of this battle,” Higdon said Tuesday at a press conference held to discuss Walston’s sentencing.
Prosecutors also announced the conviction of one of Barkley’s acquaintances who was with him the night he died. Sarah Anne Mollenhauer is serving a 45-month prison sentence. Investigators arrested her for distribution of a quantity of heroin as well as aiding and abetting.
Higdon said Mollenhauer saw Barkley lying non-responsive on a bathroom floor and failed to contact police or paramedics while he was still alive and breathing. She left the home for four hours before returning to check on his condition. By that time, Barkley was no longer breathing. She called Barkley’s mother and informed her of the situation.
Paramedics arrived and were unable to revive Barkley. Mike Barkley said the first responders had the overdose-reversal drug Narcan in their kits at the time. He said if Mollenhauer had called 911 when she first saw Barkley in an overdosed state, it’s possible his brother could have been saved.
“If she had done something in that period of time, then he possibly would have still been with us,” he said.
“I’m not familiar with the amounts of heroin that is toxic or that does this and that, from a dealer’s perspective, I don’t understand why you would (keep selling). It’s like you’re at the bar and the bartender continues to sell you alcohol and continues to sell you alcohol, and then you leave the bar and you go out and have an accident and kill someone, then the bar is liable for part of what you did,” Barkley said.
“I kind of look at the dealer in the same way. They’re selling poison, and just to have someone peddling the drugs to make a couple hundred dollars a day and put lives at risk is ridiculous. Walston sold a quantity to my brother and to Sarah (Mollenhauer) that night, and very soon thereafter sold another quantity to them with no regard to their well-being or safety.”
Even with pending murder charges against him, Walston continued selling heroin. Wilson Police arrested him in a summer 2015 drug round-up less than three months after Barkley’s death, and again in an August 2016 drug round-up.
Assistant United States Attorney Boz Zellinger said those subsequent arrests strengthened the case against Walston.
“The Wilson Police Department and the DEA did a terrific job in this case getting evidence proving how often he was selling heroin and to how many people he was selling heroin. That evidence was put on at the trial in addition to the death resulting (charge of heroin distribution),” Zellinger said.
Walston’s full list of convictions are one count of distributing heroin that resulted in a death, one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin, one count of illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition, and four counts of distribution of heroin.
“I’m glad that Detective David Seagroves and Detective Jason Corprew and the entire Wilson Police Department and multi-task force were working on it, and I’m glad they turned it over to the U.S. Attorney and I’m glad that the folks carry Narcan now. I wish there was less heroin on the street,” Mike Barkley said.
“Hopefully dealers of these drugs will learn and understand from this type of penalty that they’ll be culpable for more than just selling and distribution. … It definitely sends a much greater message to drug dealers that if you’re going to peddle poison to people, then you’re going to be held accountable for it.”
Investigators said more dealers across the state will see similar charges and prosecutors said they will seek stiff sentences as they fight a problem U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. calls a literal matter of life and death.