Saturday 18 November 2017

Boy (17) in court for possession of lethal party drug after death of talented footballer

The defendant admits possession of U4 but does not believe it merits a prison sentence

Michael Cornacchia (16).
Michael Cornacchia (16).
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A judge expressed "extreme concern" that a teenager who admitted possession of a lethal synthetic party drug after a garda investigation into the death of a 16-year-old boy does not believe the offence warranted a prison sentence.

Judge Gerard O'Brien voiced his concerns as he adjourned sentencing of the 17-year-old for possession of the designer drug U-47700 or U4 for sale or supply following a garda investigation into the tragic death of a talented young footballer last January.

Last July, the inquest into the death of Cork teen, Michael Cornacchia (16), was adjourned after his cause of death was outlined as due to a combination of the lethal designer drug U-47700/U4 and Ecstasy.

Mr Cornacchia was a talented underage football player in Cork and had been scouted by a number of Irish and UK teams.

A number of people were arrested and questioned by gardai as part of a major investigation into the death, the first in Ireland from the dangerous party drug U4.

The 17-year-old teen, who cannot be identified due to legal reasons, was charged before Cork District Court with having possession of U4 for sale or supply on January 16 2017.

The youth pleaded guilty to the offence but Judge O'Brien adjourned sentencing before Cork Circuit Criminal Court after expressing extreme concern over a number of aspects of the case.

Judge O'Brien said he would adjourn sentencing in the matter until next year due to concerns over the insight the youth had into what happened, the Probation and Welfare Service's assessment that he remains at a high risk of re-offending if released from custody and the lack of a proper support plan for him to avail of State services.

Judge O'Brien said he was "extremely concerned" that the defendant had told a PWS officer he did not believe that the offence he was before the court on warranted a prison sentence.

"This is not a slippery slope - it is a slide," the judge warned.

Judge O'Brien said he was deeply concerned at the manner in which the youth had progressed in terms of offending to the point where he was now before the circuit criminal court on a very serious matter.

"The consequences that flowed from the sale of this drug was the death of a 16-year-old boy," he said.

"I need to know why he (the defendant) went so far off the rails."

Jim O'Mahony SC, for the teen, said his client is very remorseful over the tragedy but wanted the matters before the court dealt with.

Mr O'Mahony pointed out that a report from Oberstown House, where the boy has been in custody, was very positive and showed he has co-operated fully with staff.

He pointed out that the boy's father and mother were in court and are doing everything possible to help him.

However, Judge O'Brien said he would only deal with sentencing when he was satisfied the issues he raised had been fully resolved, in particular the support plan required for the youth when he is released from custody.

"I will also be asking that the PWS liaise with Oberstown House," the judge said.

He remanded the youth on bail to appear again before Cork Circuit Criminal Court on February 1 next for sentencing.

However, the youth is in custody on other matters until February 3 next.

Mr Cornacchia was pronounced dead after being found unresponsive at his home in Deerpark, Cork, on January 16 last.

The designer drug U4 can be confused with cocaine and is notorious for its lethal properties.

The court has already heard that the teen who sold the drug, and Mr Cornacchia, both thought the powdered substance was cocaine.

At the inquest, Coroner Philip Comyn was told the Deerpark teen died after he was discovered unconscious in his home by his shocked mother.

A skilled footballer with Kilreen Celtic, the progress of the youngster was being monitored by a number of bigger clubs.

Mr Comyn was told by Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster the youngster died from the ingestion of a combination of U-47700 and Ecstasy.

The designer drug, known by its street name of U4, comes in a white powder form and is a synthetic opioid.

It is sometimes confused with cocaine - despite the fact it ranks as one of the most lethal designer drugs known.

More than 50 people have died in ten states in the United States from suspected U4 use - and it was one of the cocktail of drugs found in the system of pop star Prince (57).

It is deadly because of its powerful impact on the respiratory system.

The death of Mr Cornacchia is understood to be the first recorded death in Ireland due to U4.

Within hours of the death of Mr Cornacchia last January, the Health Service Executive (HSE) issued a public warning about the dangers of U-47700/U4.

“We wish to highlight a white powder called U-47700 which may be in circulation. It may be in the form of a white powder and sold as cocaine," a spokesperson said.

“We are aware substances sold as cocaine may in fact contain other substances such as synthetic opioids. There is no way of telling what is in a powder or pill just by looking at it. It may look like the drug you want to purchase but it may well be something else.”

Last February, Mr Comyn issued a stark warning about Ireland's urgent need to overhaul drug education in schools.

He revealed one-in-three inquests held this year involved deaths connected to drugs or alcohol.

At that inquest, the sister of a teenager who died from a lethal synthetic party drug nicknamed N Bomb in a separate and unrelated case pleaded with youngsters to say 'No' to drugs.

Nicole Ryan's brother, Alex (18), died after taking the deadly psychedelic drug, NBomb, which had been sourced by another party from a supplier in Thailand via the DarkWeb.

"Young people need to realise that they are playing Russian roulette with their lives when they take drugs," she said.

"Alex could have been anyone's brother, son or partner - it is not a question of 'if' someone else will die from drugs in Ireland, it is only a question of when."

Nicole has now devoted herself to speaking in schools to warn youngsters about the dangers of drugs.

Mr Ryan died after ingesting the lethal synthetic party drug on January 18 2016.

A number of people had to be hospitalised after the party at which he lost his life.

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