Hearing slated in overdose death

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A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for January for a 50-year-old Centennial woman, who is charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 overdose death of a 21-year-old man found dead in her bed.

Almeda Beth Sullivan is being held without bail in the Arapahoe County jail, facing murder charges in the death of Carter Higdon, which occurred on Oct. 1, 2011.

Following a lengthy investigation, Sullivan was arrested in July 2013 at her Centennial home on East Bentley Circle.

After she was taken into custody, the district attorney's office released a 31-page “affidavit of probable cause” detailing various police contacts with Sullivan dating to 2009.

Shortly after the release of the investigator's affidavit, a judge issued a gag order in the case. A spokesperson for the DA's office said the order is expected to remain in effect at least until Sullivan makes her next court appearance early next year.

According to details included in the affidavit, Sullivan has been linked to three other suspicious drug-related deaths:

• In January 2008, Sierra Renee Cochran, 19, died at Sullivan's home after she overdosed on Opana, a narcotic painkiller similar to Oxycodone.

• Lindsey Jo Saidy, 28, and Martynas “Tez” Simanskas, 20, both died in October 2008 after overdosing on prescription medications, allegedly purchased from Sullivan.

When the details surrounding Sullivan's alleged links to the overdose deaths first came to light, Cherry Creek School District officials were forced to comment on the case because Sullivan had worked for the district as a bus driver and teacher's aide from September 2003 to May 2005.

Cherry Creek School District spokesperson Tustin Amole said this week that district officials did complete a background check on Sullivan before she was hired.

“She had no criminal record,” said Amole, who added: “As far as we are aware, Sullivan never violated any district policies. None of these allegations against her are in any way connected to her employment with the district.”

Amole also pointed out that for nearly 15 years, Cherry Creek Schools has had in place the “Care Line,” a 24-hour phone line and email address where concerns about safety and threatening or dangerous situations can be reported anonymously or confidentially by students, parents or school staff.

According to police investigators, Sullivan said Higdon, a graduate of Cherry Creek High School, had come to her house the previous night, distraught because he had recently been arrested for DUI.

Sullivan said that she and Higdon had talked until 3 a.m. and then she had gone to sleep on a sofa after Higdon had fallen asleep in her bed.

The next morning, Sullivan said she awoke and took her 16-year-old daughter to a track meet. When she returned home later that morning, she claimed to have found foam coming out of Higdon's mouth.

When she was unable to wake Higdon, Sullivan said she called a friend and then Higdon's mother.

It wasn't until 30 minutes later, after Higdon's mother and stepfather had arrived, that Sullivan called 911.

But details in the investigator's affidavit contradict Sullivan's story.

Her 16-year-old daughter told police she slept at a friend's house that night and that the friend's mother had driven the girls to their track meet.

An autopsy revealed Higdon had died 12-18 hours before the 911 call. Toxicology tests showed elevated levels of Oxymorphone and alcohol as well as Xanax, Trazodone and marijuana in his blood.

Investigators found a prescription bottle of Xanax and a short straw “consistent with snorting” in Higdon's pockets.

Chemical analysis of the straw found methamphetamine, Oxycodone and Oxymorphone.

Higdon's mother later told investigators her son had a previous overdose in 2007, immediately after leaving Sullivan's home.

After getting tips from two confidential informants in October 2011, undercover investigators set up a sting operation in which Sullivan sold them Oxymorphone, Percocet and marijuana in two separate purchases.

Further investigation revealed that from 2007 to 2011, Sullivan had purchased 21,580 schedule II prescription pills using aliases as well as her dead husband's name.

The affidavit also lists several accounts of friends of the four deceased individuals who all claimed Sullivan was involved in selling prescription drugs to young people.

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