In the very house where he sought to recover from drug addiction, Kevin Paul Flaherty, a 56-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, died from a heroin overdose, a Forsyth County prosecutor said in court Monday.
And Kelsea Jewel Harris, a King woman battling her own drug addiction, gave heroin to Flaherty, failed to call 911 when she saw him nodding off, texted her sister back and forth as she tried to figure out what to do and ultimately left him, thinking he was still alive, Assistant District Attorney Elisabeth Dresel said. She placed a pillow under his head, covered him in a blanket and cleaned up the place so that no one would suspect anyone was doing illegal drugs in the early morning hours of Jan. 24, 2017.
It wasn’t until 4 p.m. that same day that he was discovered dead.
Harris, 29, of the 100 block of Culler Way in King pleaded guilty in Forsyth Superior Court on Monday to five charges connected to Flaherty’s death — involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice, possession with intent to sell and deliver heroin, conspiracy to deliver heroin and delivery of heroin.
Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court gave Harris five consecutive sentences that totaled a minimum of five years and three months to a maximum of 10 years and two months in prison.
According to Dresel, Flaherty lived at one of the Oxford Houses in Winston-Salem. Oxford Houses of North Carolina is a network of housing for people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. He and Harris were both battling drug addiction and had met two years earlier at an Oxford House. Dresel said Harris and Flaherty became friends, and when Harris relapsed and was kicked out of her mother’s house, he offered her a place to stay.
For years, Flaherty had used crack cocaine and alcohol but had reverted to using heroin after he had been prescribed pain pills, Harris told police, according to Dresel. Harris was Flaherty’s link to getting heroin, Dresel said.
And sometime in the early morning hours of Jan. 24, 2017, Flaherty texted Harris and told her he needed heroin. He told her he would give her $20 for the drugs. Harris met Flaherty at Oxford House and they traveled to get the heroin. When they got back, they shot up. Flaherty told her that he didn’t get high off the first dose and needed a second shot.
After the second dose of heroin, Flaherty began nodding off and asked to lie down. Dresel said Harris began calling and texting her sister, worried that Flaherty was overdosing. But she also believed Flaherty wasn’t as bad as other people she had seen overdose. He was still breathing.
From the time she got there at 2:30 a.m. to when she left at 5 a.m., Harris sent her sister a series of texts, Dresel said. She monitored him and said several times that she thought he would be okay.
At 4:25 a.m., she told her sister, “(He’s) going to have to sleep it off. I don’t want to be sitting here when someone comes in. I’m going to make sure he’s breathing fine on his own and then I’m out.”
Harris texted her sister at 5 a.m. that she tried to make it “look like he wanted to sleep on the floor. Put a pillow under him and a blanket. I don’t think it will work but it’s worth a shot. And I don’t know if that’s safe. We will be blamed for it and I don’t want anyone getting mad at me for leaving him without telling someone to check on him.”
Dresel said Harris did not call 911 or use the Narcan that Oxford House keeps near its residents just in case of an overdose.
One of his housemates noticed Flaherty on the floor of his bedroom the next day but thought he was sleeping. When he came back later that afternoon, he saw Flaherty in the same position on the floor. Winston-Salem police officers were called to the Oxford House at 4 p.m. Jan. 24, 2017 and that’s when Flaherty was found dead.
Maureen Flaherty, Kevin Flaherty’s daughter, said family members knew about his addiction. But the moments he spent with his grandchildren were the moments he didn’t allow his drug addictions to be an issue.
“He showed his love,” she said.
Clark Fischer, Harris’ attorney, said Harris has had a drug addiction problem for at least 11 years. Harris is dealing with her addiction now and has shown true remorse, he said. While in the Forsyth County Jail, she has attended Bible study and has given advice to other inmates.
Harris told Hall that there are not enough words to demonstrate how sorry she is for her actions and that she wants her testimony to prevent other people from making the same mistakes she made.
Hall described the opioid epidemic as a crisis that the criminal-justice system is limited in doing anything about. He said this is a tragedy for both Harris’ family and Flaherty’s family and noted that it could have easily been Harris who overdosed.
“The best thing that could happen is that maybe you can help others,” he said.