Local News

Drug dealer gets 27 years in prison for overdose death

Posted October 31, 2017 2:35 p.m. EDT
Updated October 31, 2017 7:02 p.m. EDT

A Wilson drug dealer was sentenced Monday to 27 years in federal prison in a 2015 overdose death, authorities said.

Elton Wayne Walston, 66, was convicted in June of distributing heroin that resulted in a death, possession with intent to distribute heroin, illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition and four counts of distribution of heroin.

Local and federal authorities identified Walston two years ago as a source of heroin in the Wilson, Greenville, and Nash County areas, and investigators confirmed that one of his heroin deals led to the death of a 43-year-old Wilson man in March of 2015.

Walston's co-defendant, Sarah Anne Mollenhauer, 32, called the man's mother on March 27, 2015, and told her that her son wasn't breathing, authorities said. She told the mother that she had "hung out" with him the night before, later found him unconscious on the floor of the Dover Road home but left with her boyfriend, only to return to the home at about 5:30 a.m. to find the man unresponsive in the bathroom.

Authorities didn't identify the overdose victim.

Mollenhauer pleaded guilty last year to heroin distribution and aiding and abetting, and she was sentenced Monday to 45 months in prison.

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that Walston's case marks the beginning of tougher prosecutions of people who deal in heroin and other drugs as they search for ways to slow the opioid epidemic in North Carolina.

Walston’s lengthy sentence stems from a federal law that includes a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years if a drug dealer sells a dose of a drug to someone who dies from it. U.S. Attorney Bobby Higdon said that law, known as the "death result law," has been on the books for years, but it hasn’t been frequently used in the past.

Now, Higdon said, the speed of overdose deaths from heroin and other opioids makes it easier to prove a causal connection between a particular drug purchase and the death of a buyer.

"We’re going to see more and more of this. We’re going to be very aggressive in our prosecutions," he said. "We’re going to seek stiff sentences until this problem is solved because it is literally a matter of life and death for the people of (eastern North Carolina)."

Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death in the United States for people under the age of 50. About 60,000 people died of overdoses last year, including about three per day in North Carolina, authorities said.