2006-09-15 / Community

Laced Heroin Eyed In Broad Channel Deaths

By Brian Magoolaghan

Many people in the tight-knit community of Broad Channel were stunned and grief-struck this week when two men died and a third was hospitalized after the men - all friends - apparently overdosed on drugs or shared a tainted batch of heroin that was laced with a powerful painkiller.

Police said Joseph Knapp, 24, was pronounced dead Sunday, September 10, at Peninsula Hospital Center and Philip Girace, 31, was found dead inside his apartment on Cross Bay Boulevard on Monday, September 11. The third man, Ryan Raurt, was in serious but stable condition at PHC, sources said.

The men were together at a party in Broad Channel Saturday night, police said, but other details remained sketchy and rumors persisted throughout Broad Channel and Rockaway throughout the week. The Wave received phone calls from as far away as Florida, and the Hillebrand Funeral Home on Cross Bay Boulevard overflowed Wednesday night with family members and friends of the deceased.

Police indicated that they wanted to interview Raurt but said they initially weren't able to because of his condition.

The incident has sparked an investigation into whether the men shared a tainted batch of heroin that contained a powerful painkiller fentanyl.

At least 17 people in New York City have been killed by the deadly breed of heroin, which goes by the street names Infinity or Thunderbolt, since May, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. While most of the city's fentanyl-related deaths have occurred in Manhattan, the city's health experts said "these deaths are not isolated to one particular community or neighborhood. Deaths have occurred in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Most were among men between the ages of 30 and 53 years. One death occurred in a 43-year-old woman."

Fentanyl is 50-80 times more powerful than morphine and is "extremely lethal" when combined with other drugs, according to a recent DOHMH warning.

"Fentanyl is very potent and very small amounts have the same effects as large amounts of other drugs," said the agency's commissioner, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. "We urge drug users to get into treatment."

Toxicology reports for Knapp and Girace were not available when The Wave went to press late on Thursday, according to a spokesperson for the Chief Medical Examiner's Office. Sources said the authorities were waiting for the outcome of those tests, and that a criminal investigation could result. No arrests were made at press time.

The Medical Examiner's spokesperson also said she was unaware of any other cases bearing similarity since the Broad Channel incident.

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