Centerville pilot used drugs for 2-3 years before OD death, report says

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Centerville pilot used drugs for 2-3 years before OD death, report says

The mother-in-law of Spirit Airlines Captain Brian Halye said he liked to “speedball” mixtures of cocaine and heroin and “had been using drugs for two or three years” prior to his overdose death in March alongside his wife, according to a Centerville Police Department report.

A former co-worker and roommate of Halye’s additionally told Centerville police he had “heard Brian talk about smoking marijuana in the past,” but was surprised by the idea that Halye could have used other drugs, according to the Centerville police report obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

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Brian Halye, 36, and Courtney Halye, 34, were found dead by their four children March 16 after overdosing on carfentanil — heroin’s much stronger cousin — and cocaine, according to police and the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.

Brian’s parents told police their son’s overdose death was “quite shocking.”

The Centerville police report is the first public documentation alleging that Brian Halye — a pilot at Spirit Airlines for nine years who died less than a week after his most recent flight, according to the airline — had used drugs on occasion before his death in March.

Spirit Airlines did not return an email seeking comment for this story. Previously, a company spokesperson said the airline “operates with the highest degree of safety” and is “fully compliant with federal regulations.”

‘A total surprise’

While Nancy Casey told police she was aware of her son-in-law’s drug use, Brian’s parents Cindy and James Halye told police and the Dayton Daily News they “had no idea at all” their son used drugs.

“It was a total surprise,” James Halye said in a newspaper interview.

“Unfortunately, I’d have to say Brian was using drugs at some point,” said Cindy Halye. “But, I don’t think for a minute he flew while under the direct influence of drugs. He loved his job flying. He was aware that he was in control of many lives while he was flying.”

“He wouldn’t even take allergy-type medicines when he started flying, because it kind of makes you groggy and not alert,” she said.

James Halye said his son started taking pilot lessons at age 13.

Centerville police attempted to track down the source of the couple’s drugs, but were unsuccessful. The investigation ended this month, prompting the release of records this news organization had requested. Police now consider the Halye case “inactive until such time new information or credible leads are available.”

Casey and Brian Huelsman, the attorney representing Courtney Halye’s estate, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment. A phone message left for Jeffrey Samford, Brian Halye’s former roommate interviewed by police, was not immediately returned.

Gruesome discovery

Police were called to the Halyes’ suburban home after Courtney’s 11-year-old daughter woke up and noticed her step-sisters had not yet awoke for school. She then found her mother and step-father “unresponsive and not breathing,” the report said.

“Upon arrival, I was met by four juveniles running out of the front door of the residence screaming,” the Centerville officer wrote. Emergency personnel found Brian and Courtney Halye dead with “needle puncture” marks on their bodies, according to the coroner and the police report.

Police additionally found “a couple of spoons that were found in a vanity drawer” of the couple’s master bathroom.

“The spoons had burn marks on the underside which is indicative of them being used to prepare illegal drugs prior to injection,” a Centerville police officer wrote. “One of the spoons still had a small piece of cotton attached, which is indicative of the cotton being used as a filter when illegal drugs are drawn up into a hypodermic syringe.”

Casey told police that her daughter Courtney had “struggled with drug addiction for the majority of her adult life” and in July 2016 attended a month-long drug rehabilitation program in Florida, according to the report. Casey told police Brian “only used drugs recreationally with Courtney,” according to the report.

“Nancy believes that Courtney likely introduced Brian to drugs and that Courtney would often tell her when she and Brian would use together,” the March 16 police narrative states. “When asked about who would acquire the drugs, Nancy advised that she would usually suspect Courtney, however she believes that any drugs acquired yesterday would have likely been bought by Brian, as she believes Courtney was with the children most of the day.”

“Nancy further advised that they used to buy drugs from an unknown black male in the City of Dayton near Miami Valley Hospital, however Courtney recently told her that this person died,” the report said. “If this information is correct, Nancy advised she would not have any idea where Brian or Courtney would have purchased the drugs that likely caused their deaths.”

Cindy Halye told the Dayton Daily News that Brian did not share the extent of Courtney’s drug use with his family.

“He didn’t even share that Courtney had a history of drugs when they got married, probably because we would not have been quite so on board with it,” she said.

Investigation’s findings

Even if a pilot is not high on cocaine when flying, withdrawal symptoms can be problematic, retired psychologist Malcolm Brenner said after Halye’s death.

“Cocaine has problems — it doesn’t last very long,” Brenner said. “The drug itself is very hard to recognize and very addictive.”

Brenner, a former National Transportation Safety Board psychologist, investigated the 1988 Trans-Colorado Flight 2286 crash in which the captain and his girlfriend had used cocaine the night before the crash. Nine of 17 people on board died in the crash outside Durango, Colo. The crash prompted expanded federal drug testing regulations.

A Dayton Daily News examination of those regulations found airline pilots can go years without being selected for a random drug or alcohol test. The newspaper’s investigation also found:

• Halye’s aerospace medical file, obtained by the newspaper under the federal Freedom of Information Act, did not mention a history of using illegal substances. Urine collected during aviation medical exams is used to detect diseases, but not drugs, experts told the Daily News after Halye’s death.

• Halye was not the first pilot at Spirit Airlines suspected of using a “speedball.” After a full day of domestic and overseas travel in 2007, another Spirit Airlines pilot was given a random drug test that revealed cocaine, morphine and heroin at levels “far above” the minimum required for a positive identification, according to court records from an unsuccessful appeal the pilot filed in an attempt to get his license restored.

• Spirit Airlines was found in non-compliance with federal drug and alcohol testing regulations in the months before Halye’s death, including an instance where a scheduled drug test of an employee never took place, according to Federal Aviation Administration records obtained by the newspaper.

• At least three Spirit employees — including at least two pilots — received verified positive drug tests since 2015, according to federal records the newspaper analyzed in June. That month, there were six open FAA Drug Abatement Division investigations into former Spirit Airlines employees, according to the FAA and the airline. Five of the investigations were from 2016, while another was from 2014. A Spirit Airlines spokesman said in June that none of the employees under investigation remained employed at Spirit and said the airline itself is not under investigation.

In July, the Department of Transportation Inspector General confirmed it opened an audit into the office that oversees the aviation industry’s compliance with drug and alcohol testing regulations, the FAA’s Drug Abatement Division. OIG Program Director Tina Nysted said the audit will include a review of Halye’s death, which the office learned about through newspaper reporting.

Cindy Halye said she does not follow the developments in the aftermath of her son’s death. Rather, she focuses on the life her son lived.

“You should have been at his funeral,” she said, recalling stories of his life, “none of which” involved drug use.

IN-DEPTH COVERAGE

Since the death of Spirit Airlines Captain Brian Halye in March, the Dayton Daily News has interviewed dozens of people and reviewed thousands of pages of records related to aviation safety. This is the latest report in the series made possible by your investment in local journalism.

Contact this reporter at 937-259-2086 or email Will.Garbe@coxinc.com.

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