Army Says Soldier Gave Teen Lethal Cocktail of Drugs on Base

Pvt. Timothy Bennitt is charged in the drug-related death of Leah King, 16.

ByABC News
February 17, 2009, 3:06 PM

March 11, 2009— -- A soldier who deployed to Afghanistan last year has been charged in last month's prescription drug overdose that resulted in the death of a 16-year-old girl at the Ft. Lewis, Wash. Army base, military authorities announced.

Pvt. Timothy Bennitt faces a slew of charges, the most serious of them being involuntary manslaughter.

According to a military statement, Leah King died Feb. 15 in Bennitt's room from a lethal combination of Xanax and the pain-killer oxymorphone, also known as Opana -- all allegedly supplied by Bennitt.

According to an accompanying military charge sheet, released by Ft. Lewis, King "had a propensity to abuse controlled substances."

King was dead when officials responded to Bennitt's room and another unidentified teenager, also 16, was found unconscious but survived, after being transported to nearby Madigan Army Medical Center.

In addition to the manslaughter charge, Bennitt was also charged with wrongful use and distribution of controlled substances and conspiracy to use them.

He's accused of distributing Xanax and Opana as well as Percocet and marijuana. Bennitt faces up to 82 years in prison, a demotion in rank, forfeiture of pay and a dishonorable discharge if convicted. .

The families of Bennitt, who is from Rolling Prairie, Ind., and King could not be reached for comment.

Investigators found that some of the drugs appeared to have been crushed and "inhaled in powder form."

In accordance with military police, an investigating officer will be assigned to conduct a hearing equivalent to a civilian grand jury.

Asked if King was known to have visited the base before, Ft. Lewis spokesman Joe Kubistek said he couldn't release more information beyond what was in the Army's statement and the charge sheet for Bennitt, or say if other soldiers could face related charges. "The investigation is still open and ongoing," he said.

But Fort Lewis has amended its visitor policies since King's death. Soldiers and Department of Defense employees are still able to sponsor visitors on base, including minors, but those minors must now be signed in at the visitor's center.

"The staff at the visitor's center will screen minors and sponsors -- denying access to those who do not appear to have a legitimate reason to visit Fort Lewis," the Army's statement said.

Random checks of vehicles and barracks have also been stepped up to prevent unauthorized minors from sneaking onto the base.