Defendant on trial for fatal overdose
By Scott Bellile
A jury is expected to decide Thursday whether or not Jeffrey L. Van Ark, Jr. sold Brandon L. Shadduck the methadone that caused his fatal overdose in 2014.
The 32-year-old New London man was charged last October with first-degree reckless homicide caused by the delivery of methadone.
Twelve witnesses testified Wednesday, March 29, at Van Ark’s trial in Outagamie County Circuit Court.
Christopher Wichman, an Outagamie County deputy coroner, told the court 28-year-old Shadduck was found slumped on the couch with no pulse at his apartment, 633 Wallace St., on Oct. 8, 2014.
New London Police Department received a request for a welfare check after Shadduck did not show up to work for three days. Steve Krueger, special projects manager for Steel King, called Shadduck a good employee who moved up the ladder while there.
Shadduck was pronounced dead at 2:05 p.m. Wichman said he could not determine a time of death, but he estimated the date to be Oct. 4, 2014. Shadduck’s body was in the early stages of decomposition and showed green coloration.
An autopsy determined the cause of death was methadone toxicity. The manner of death was declared to be accidental, but this could be changed to homicide if Van Ark is found to be responsible for the death and convicted.
Shadduck was never a patient at the nearest methadone clinic, Valley Health Services (now Appleton Comprehensive Treatment Center), according to clinic records.
The methadone in this case is a liquid drug. Law enforcement didn’t find a bottle containing a label for methadone on the premises.
Nicholas Kamba, investigator for New London Police Department, said during a preliminary hearing last November that Van Ark had texted Shadduck on Oct. 3, 2014 offering Shadduck his “take-home” methadone. Shadduck did not respond to the text.
Records from Appleton Comprehensive Treatment Center indicate Van Ark picked up his weekend take-home quantity of 90 milligrams of methadone around 6:50 a.m. on Oct. 4, 2014.
Shadduck’s final hours
Investigators seized two cell phones from Shadduck’s house, one that was used as an internet hotspot and the other for communicating with friends and family. Text and call logs along with witness testimonies painted a picture of what Shadduck did after work on his presumed last day, Oct. 4, 2014.
After his shift at Steel King ended at 1 p.m., Shadduck went to watch a football game at the Quiver ‘N Minnow bar with his co-worker, Michael Koslowski. Koslowski would drive Shadduck to work because he did not have a car.
When Shadduck was at the bar, he called his best friend Timothy Houk four times between 3:09 and 3:12 p.m. but Houk missed the calls. Houk did not communicate with Shadduck during the weeks leading up to his death, to avoid becoming influenced by Shadduck’s drug use. Houk testified he had done drugs with Shadduck in the past and had lent him money for drugs before he began beginning at the methadone clinic, Valley Health Services, in August 2014.
Shadduck texted a friend, Matthew Stevens, at 3:15 p.m. asking if Stevens could spot him $80. Stevens said he would think about it. Shadduck responded at 3:23 that he wouldn’t blame Stevens if he didn’t want to, and then at 4:18 that this would be the last time. Stevens testified he never saw Shadduck that day or gave him any methadone.
Around 4:30 p.m., Koslowski drove Shadduck to Kwik Trip South, where Shadduck bought food. Koslowski then dropped Shadduck off at his apartment.
At 5:28 p.m., Shadduck tried calling his friend, Michael Thompson. Thompson missed the call and texted Shadduck back at 6:20 p.m. asking what was up. Shadduck texted back inviting Thompson to come drink alcohol. Thompson responded he could in about an hour. Shadduck offered his final response to Thompson at 6:34 p.m., “Aight.” When Thompson texted back minutes later asking if Shadduck had Xanax, he did not hear back.
At 6:40 p.m., Shadduck called Van Ark and the two had a two-minute conversation. Van Ark texted at 6:54 p.m. to say he was going to roll a cigarette and then be on his way to Shadduck’s house in five minutes. Van Ark then gave him a ride to Kwik Trip to get food and withdraw money, according to investigators. Bank records for Shadduck’s debit card show he withdrew $80 from the Kwik Trip ATM at 7:07 p.m.
Shadduck called Houk at 7:25 p.m. Houk missed the call. Houk testified he was not asked by Shadduck for methadone that day and he has never sold it to him.
Thompson called Shadduck at 9:19 p.m. and texted him at 9:27 p.m. while walking over to his apartment, failing to reach him both times. Because he didn’t make contact, Thompson turned around halfway there and went home. He said failing to reach Shadduck was not unusual, so he thought nothing of it.
Background on methadone
Methadone is a highly monitored opioid because of the danger it poses to recovering drug addicts, as Appleton Comprehensive Treatment Center Director Jane Williquette explained.
VanArk and his wife Erica Russell were patients together at the clinic. The couple together took controlled amounts of methadone on a daily basis. They began in late July in hopes of overcoming their illegal drug use before their daughter’s birth in September 2014.
Williquette said patients in “phase one,” their first 90 days, must show up six days a week to take their methadone in front of a nurse. Then each Saturday when they arrive to take their dose, the nurse also distributes a “take-home” dose that phase one patients are entrusted to take on their own at home on Sunday, when the clinic is closed. The patient takes the bottle home in a lockbox and returns with the lockbox on Monday.
The clinic regularly drug tests patients without warning to make sure methadone is present in their bodies. If they test negative for methadone, that raises suspicions patients could have sold their take-home dose. Consequently, they could be kicked out of the program.
Williquette presented Van Ark’s clinic records and confirmed he tested positive for methadone consistently between August and October 2014.
Therefore, Russell testified Van Ark would have therefore sold part of his take-home dose to Shadduck while keeping the rest for himself.
Van Ark and Russel
Russell said she and Van Ark took their take-home doses together each Sunday.
In 2015, Russell spoke to New London Police Department investigators Chase Schroeder and Kamba. She told them she and Van Ark struggled financially and it was possible that to afford the rent, her husband sold part of his take-home dose assigned for Oct. 5, 2014 to Shadduck.
She said Van Ark had done this in the past. He would keep a small amount of the dose for himself so he could take it Sunday morning and still test positive at the clinic Monday in the event of a random drug test.
Russell said whenever Van Ark sold drugs, she was not present for the sales and did not approve of them. She didn’t witness a deal take place between Van Ark and Shadduck before the latter’s death and therefore couldn’t confirm there was one. Therefore she did not know how much methadone Van Ark would have sold or how much money he would gave gained from the sale.
Russell testified that Van Ark told her he might sell the methadone to generate extra cash to pay rent for October 2014. Both individuals were unemployed because their daughter was born one month early in September and suffered from health issues, so during the girl’s recovery they spent all their time at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton.
VanArk and Russell lived together in an apartment in downtown New London above Jolly Roger’s Pizzeria in fall 2014. One of their landlords, Michelle Leahy, testified the couple sometimes had trouble financially. When they would pay the rent, it was in cash.
They were late with a $550 October 2014 rent payment. Leahy billed them an additional $60 for being six days overdue. Russell testified that VanArk’s mother ultimately paid the October rent for the couple.
Videotaped police interview
When the attorneys examined Russell, she could not remember if she had brought her infant daughter to the police station with her for a Nov. 24, 2015 interview with investigators.
Van Ark’s defense attorney Kevin Musolf played the footage. It confirmed the baby was with her in the room. In the video, Van Ark walks in the room midway through the interview and becomes angry that his wife brought their child to the police station.
Before Van Ark enters the frame, Russell is heard telling the investigators she believes Van Ark had sold methadone to Shadduck about five times prior to the death.
Asked during the video whether he sold methadone to Shadduck right before he died, Van Ark is heard responding, “I intended on selling him methadone and she bitched at me and said no.”
One of the investigators is then heard saying Van Ark is implying that the one time he allegedly did not sell Shadduck methadone is the time that Shadduck happened to overdose on the drug.
The investigators are heard asking Van Ark to tell them the truth because they have Shadduck’s ATM records from his final cash withdrawal from Kwik Trip on Oct. 4, 2014 before he died. They wanted to know the rates Van Ark charged for past drug deals so they could clear Van Ark’s name if the amounts did not match up with the withdrawal amount. Van Ark did not provide an answer.
Musolf argued to the court that the state did not find enough evidence to prove Van Ark committed a felony.
Last December, Musolf filed a motion to dismiss the criminal complaint.
Judge Mark McGinnis decided there was enough probable cause to continue the case for at least two reasons: One, the October 2014 text messages between Van Ark and Shadduck referenced Van Ark’s “take-home,” and two, text messages show Van Ark is the only person Shadduck discussed such drugs with in his final days.
Van Ark posted a $20,000 cash bond on Jan. 26 this year.