Fairview Twp. man gets house arrest, intensive probation in friend's fatal OD

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Brett Zeigler

A Fairview Township man whose friend fatally overdosed on a powerful synthetic opioid has avoided additional prison time for providing his friend with the drug.

Brett Zeigler, 39, of Gap Road, pleaded guilty July 15 to felony drug possession with intent to deliver. In exchange for his plea, charges including first-degree felony drug delivery resulting in death and involuntary manslaughter were dismissed.

The agreement between prosecutors and defense attorney Tom Kelley left the matter of sentencing to presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner.

Zeigler appeared in York County Court on Wednesday, Sept. 4, where Bortner sentenced him to two years of intensive probation, with the first six months on house arrest, court records state. Kelley said that's the punishment recommended in a pre-sentence report by county probation officers.

Zeigler spent 99 days in York County Prison after his arrest for the Jan. 16, 2017, death of Jeremy Umphred, 37, of Newberry Township, according to court records.

"They were old friends, and he's heartbroken about what happened," Kelley said of Zeigler.

Kelley told The York Dispatch there were evidence issues involving the most serious charge against his client — drug delivery resulting in death, which carries the same maximum prison sentence as third-degree murder, 20 to 40 years.

Someone else who was with Umphred the night he overdosed destroyed evidence at the scene, according to Kelley.

'Rehabilitated': In handing down the intensive probationary sentence to Zeigler, the judge likely took into consideration that the defendant has stayed clean and held down a job, his attorney said.

"He has rehabilitated himself," Kelley said. "He has remained free of drugs for nearly two years."

Zeigler was drug-tested four times a week and wore an alcohol-detecting ankle cuff, according to Kelley. Court records indicate Zeigler will continued to be monitored for drug and alcohol usage during his probation.

"He never tested positive," Kelley said. "He went to rehab, went to intensive outpatient (treatment) and has a job."

Kelley said Zeigler is an example of someone who has made a mistake but has turned his life around.

"This was a wake-up call for him, and he is a changed person, which is exactly what the (criminal justice) system wants from addicts," Kelley said.

About 2 to 3 milligrams of fentanyl, visually similar to 5 to 7 individual grains of table salt, are enough to cause a potentially fatal overdose. Carfentanil is 100 times more potent. (Drug Enforcement Administration/TNS)

The background: Zeigler was the first person in York County to be accused of providing someone with a fatal dose of carfentanil, according to the county district attorney's office. The drug is used as an elephant tranquilizer.

Carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which itself is 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the DEA.

According to Newberry Township Police, Zeigler drove Umphred and a third person to Harrisburg on Jan. 13, 2017, where Zeigler exchanged food stamps for cash.

Zeigler dropped the two off in Harrisburg, drove away and returned with four bags of opioids, police allege. He used the money from selling food stamps to buy the drugs and gave three of the bags to Umphred, court documents state.

Zeigler then drove Umphred and the third person at Umphred's home on Ridge Road in Newberry Township, police said.

Umphred was found unresponsive on a bedroom floor less than two hours later and was taken to Harrisburg Hospital by ambulance, police said.

He was pronounced dead there Jan. 16, 2017, after which the Dauphin County Coroner's Office determined Umphred died of carfentanil toxicity, according to police.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the first name of Jeremy Umphred.