Sunday 21 October 2018

Teen sentenced for possession of lethal party drug which killed talented footballer

Cork district court
Cork district court
Michael Cornacchia (16).
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A Mother whose son died from a lethal synthetic party drug slated a one year detention and supervision sentence handed down to a teen who admitted possession of the substance as "an insult to his memory."

A 17 year old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, received the 12 month detention and supervision order by Cork Circuit Criminal Court after he pleaded guilty to possession for sale or supply of U-47700/U4 following an investigation by Gardaí into the death of Michael Cornacchia (16) in January 2017.

Last November, Judge Gerard O'Brien expressed "extreme concern" that the 17-year-old did not believe his offence merited a prison sentence.

Cork Circuit Criminal Court ordered that the teen will be under strict Probation and Welfare Service (PWS) supervision for six months after his release.

Michael Cornacchia (16).
Michael Cornacchia (16).

Mr Cornacchia, a talented underage footballer in Cork who had been monitored by a number of Irish and UK teams, was found unresponsive in the bedroom of his Deerpark home on January 16 2017.

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

Traces of U4 were found in the system of pop star Prince.

Mr Cornacchia's mother, Joan, last night hit out at the sentence and warned that Ireland's entire anti-drug policy needs to be radically overhauled.

"I am absolutely shocked," she said. "It (the sentence) is an insult to his memory."

She warned that Ireland needs a "get tough" policy on websites where youngsters can source such lethal drugs overseas.

The mother said her entire family remain "devastated and heartbroken" by Michael's loss.

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

The 17 year old teen later pleaded guilty to having possession of U4 for sale or supply on January 16 2017.

The teen was due to be sentenced last November but Judge O'Brien adjourned the case due to serious concerns over the teen's attitude towards what happened.

Probation and Welfare Service officials assessed that the teen remained at a high risk of re-offending.

Judge O'Brien said he was "extremely concerned" that the defendant 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 was very remorseful over the tragedy.

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 had done everything possible to help him.

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

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

The court previously 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 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.

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

Within hours of the death of Mr Cornacchia, 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 in 2016/2017 involved deaths connected to drugs or alcohol.

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