Meth Fatalities

Methamphetamine is number-one with a bullet when it comes to violent death in Phoenix

Some clashes between the police and their meth-infused suspects since the start of 2004 have been classic suicide-by-cop scenarios -- where the suspect points a weapon at an officer as if to expedite his own demise.

Yet other clashes have happened by chance, as in March 2004, when convicted felon Marty Baker tried to take a Phoenix cop's gun from him during a routine stop. The cop shot him to death. Afterward, authorities learned that Baker was on meth at the time.

The following month, Phoenix residents Adam Feenaughty and Rejane Burgoyne stepped into a stolen car at a motel off Interstate 17. It so happened that members of a Phoenix police auto-theft task force were watching, and approached the pair.

The driver, Burgoyne, allegedly tried to run down the cops, who fired and killed both men.

Both dead men had meth in them.

Just three days later, Phoenix police responded to a call about a guy inside a home on North 40th Place who was acting crazy. The cops found Daniel Lepker, who threatened them with knives and an ax.

An officer used a Taser on Lepker, to no avail. The suspect then jumped through a neighbor's window wielding the ax. He pointed what two cops later said they'd believed was a semi-automatic pistol at them.

They fired at Lepker, killing him instantly. The suspect's "pistol" later turned out to be a pellet gun. His postmortem turned up a mammoth amount of methamphetamine in his body.

Before the week of April 24, 2004, ended, Phoenix police had killed two more men, Frank Romero and Rudy Chavarria, in separate incidents. They had large amounts of meth in them.

By the end of 2004, two more men lost their lives after consuming methamphetamine and getting into fatal run-ins with cops.

Though the number of Phoenix police-involved shootings has been down this year (thanks in part to the successful deployment of controversial Taser shocks), every such clash through June had been with a suspect on meth.

In early January, meth user Edward Laborin committed suicide on North 59th Drive after he pointed a handgun at police. An officer shot Laborin in the buttocks just before the 24-year-old killed himself.

The most controversial of this year's police shootings of suspects -- the May 3 death of another 24-year-old, Keith Graff, at a north Phoenix complex -- had an almost-certain meth angle.

Graff died of cardiac arrest after police shocked him with Taser guns for a deadly 84 seconds, far longer than the norm. Though toxicological results of Graff's blood, urine and bile samples haven't been released, court records show he'd long been a methamphetamine abuser.

In July 2002, the former U.S. Army soldier admitted to Phoenix police after getting stopped in a stolen truck that he'd just smoked meth. That led to a nine-month jail term for car theft. And in June 2004, police found meth in Graff's possession, and he was facing a prison sentence at the time of his death.

Graff's survivors have filed a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Department in connection with the clash.

Just one week after Graff's death, Phoenix Officer Uribe died after he was shot from close range during a routine stop of a late-model Monte Carlo near the intersection of 35th Avenue and West Cactus Road.

Donnie Delahanty, now facing the death penalty in the murder with co-defendant Chris Wilson, allegedly told several friends in the days preceding the killing that he'd shoot any cop who stopped him in his car.

Delahanty and Wilson weren't arrested for a few days after the senseless slaying, which cast a pall over the community. The pair weren't tested for drugs after their arrests, and any methamphetamine in their systems at the time of the murder would have dissipated by then.

The motive for murder remains a mystery, as the men hadn't done anything overtly wrong that day other than driving with stolen license plates. But they also were admitted tweakers who had been running meth back and forth from Phoenix to Tucson at the time of the shooting.

Delahanty had the following exchange with Detective Jack Ballentine shortly after his arrest:

"You know what you been livin' in, bud?" Ballentine asked the 19-year-old Phoenix man during an intense interview at the downtown police station.

Delahanty shook his head in the negative.

"You been livin' in a tweaker's world. And what's the main thing that happens in that world? What's it called? [How] does everybody get when they're tweaking?"

Delahanty continued to stare blankly at the detective as his mind stretched for the right answer.

Finally, he said, "Have to go to jail?"

"No, not that," Ballentine replied. "It's paranoid. Right?"

"Yeah!"

"Paranoia runs [you] crazy," the detective continued.

"Yup!" the accused cop killer agreed.

Delahanty and Wilson have pleaded not guilty.

A well-publicized shootout at Sky Harbor International Airport last July 8 also had strong overtones of methamphetamine abuse.

Three Phoenix officers were wounded by gunfire during an extended car chase with 35-year-old Jason Eugene Lee, who was driving a stolen 2004 Ford Mustang. The chase ended after Lee's car tires blew out when he drove over concrete curbs at the airport.

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