By JOHN T. WARD
An Avon-by-the-Sea man has been charged for allegedly supplying the heroin that led to the overdose death of a resident of Rumson’s Oxford House rehab facility last October, the Monmouth County Prosecutor announced Tuesday.
Michael Renna, 25, was charged with one count of first degree strict liability for a drug-induced death and one count of third-degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said in a prepared statement.
News about the death of 25-year-old Christopher Pesce was the first that word that nearby residents had that the recovery residence had opened two months earlier in their residential corner of Rumson, and ignited a firestorm of objections.
It also led to a pair of countervailing lawsuits by the borough and Oxford House, litigation that now appears to be close to settlement.
The charges against Renna put responsibility for Pesce’s death on him, Gramiccioni said.
From the announcement:
Rumson police responded to Oxford House, at 61 South Ward Ave., on October 13, 2013, at approximately 8:15 p.m., where officers located the deceased victim.
Rumson police immediately launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Pesce’s death with toxicology results obtained during a postmortem examination concluding Pesce’s death was caused by Acute Heroin Toxicity. Rumson Police, in conjunction with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, continued the investigation and ultimately determined the victim obtained the fatal doses of heroin from Renna, an acquaintance, in Asbury Park on the night of October 12, 2013, leading to the charges filed against him.
If convicted of Strict Liability for Drug Induced Deaths, Renna faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in a New Jersey state prison, subject to the provisions of the “No Early Release Act” (NERA), requiring him to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for parole.
If convicted of Distribution of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, he faces a maximum of five years in a state prison Renna was being held Tuesday in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution on $210,000 bail, with no 10 percent option,
Anyone with information related to this investigation should contact Detective Christopher Isherwood of the Rumson Police Department at (732) 842-0500 or Detective Kevin Condon of the Monmouth Count Prosecutor’s Office at (800) 533-7443.
In the aftermath of that incident, and a second, non-fatal overdose at the house two months later, the borough sued Oxford House in state Superior Court, seeking temporary and permanent injunctions forcing Oxford House to vacate the house, which it leases from an entity owned by borough resident Charles Farkouh.
A month later, Oxford House filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that the town and borough Administrator Tom Rogers “interfered with operation and occupancy” of the residence.
A lawyer for Oxford House told redbankgreen at the time that Rumson’s response to community pressure by initiating state court action “absolutely” constituted a form of harassment against the organization.
Both actions appeared to be near settlement as of a week ago, Mayor John Ekdahl tells redbankgreen.
Under the terms of an arbitrated settlement, Rumson would concede that Oxford House has a federally-protected right to remain at its location. Federal courts have consistently deemed Oxford House and similar operations as akin to families who are thus exempt from boardinghouse ordinances and other other local rules that limit the number of unrelated persons sharing a house.
The proposed settlement followed an intensive day of arbitration, Ekdahl said. But Oxford House has since raised questions over two undisclosed elements of the deal, Ekdahl said. The house’s right to operate in town is not among the disputed matters, Ekdahl said.
Oxford’s suit against Rumson, meantime, has already been settled, according to documents on file in federal court in Newark. A judge dismissed the matter as having been “amicably resolved” on August 5.
Oxford House’s attorney could not be reached for comment.