The woman who pleaded guilty to three felony charges after her friend died in a Leesburg hotel room following a night of heavy drinking and heroin use was sentenced today to serve four years in prison.
Heather Nicole Timbers, a 29-year-old mother of two, pleaded guilty last year to charges of involuntary manslaughter, distribution of heroin as an accommodation and possession of heroin in the death of Dewitt Talmadge Black IV. It was a landmark conviction for county prosecutors seeking to hold drug suppliers accountable in fatal overdose cases.
Black grew up in the Hamilton area, was a guitarist with the metal band Yesterday’s Saints, and, by all witness accounts, had never used heroin until Sept. 29, 2016. That was the night he invited Timbers, his friend of 14 years, to come hang out with him at the Clarion Hotel in Leesburg. He had a 12-pack of beer and a bottle of Jägermeister. During the evening, she called a drug dealer and bought heroin. In the bathroom, she cut out two lines of the drug. Timbers, a drug user since the age of 12, snorted one line. Black snorted the other.
Afterward Black went outside to smoke a cigarette but collapsed in the hotel stairwell. Timbers spent some 40 minutes trying to carry him back to the room. Once there, she went to bed. She awoke around 6:30 a.m. to find Black on the floor and unresponsive, but claimed she thought he was ignoring her on purpose. Hours later she realized his situation was dire and called a friend to help. Just after 8 a.m. a call was made to 911.
Black was already dead.
Dozens of Black’s family members and friends packed the courtroom Wednesday to share their memories of Black and learn of Timbers’ fate. They were left with at least two overarching questions: Why did Black, who detested the drug after witnessing its impact on a former girlfriend, try heroin that night? And what if Timbers had called for help hours earlier when his body first showed signs of distress and when it was still likely that his life could have been saved. Those questions will remain unanswered.
Black’s mother, Ricci, and sister, Christina, took the witness stand to talk about the continuing trauma Dewitt’s death has had on their lives. Timbers’ mother, Annette Tribby, also took the stand, telling about her daughter’s struggles with addiction and homelessness.
Black’s family members said they were disturbed that Timbers didn’t call for help.
“There were so many ways to save his life,” Christina Black said, lamenting that her brother died alone without his family nearby.
“Witt would have never abandoned a friend,” his mother said. “He would have made that call regardless of the personal cost.”
Ricci Black asked Judge Douglas L. Fleming Jr. to impose a sentence that would deter other drug users from spreading their habits and sharing drugs. “Your honor, I plead for justice,” she said. “Please send a clear message to the drug-using community.”
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy McMullen agreed. “The message needs to be clear,” she said. “It’s not OK to share because you’re an addict. It’s not OK to spread the disease, the filth in our community.”
Tribby asked Fleming to help Timbers get more treatment, continuing the progress toward sober living she’s made while spending the past year in the county jail. She said Timbers’ struggles with drugs go back to her middle school years when she suffered from depression. The court’s pre-sentencing report noted that Timbers had experienced physical, mental and sexual abuse. Tribby noted that the father of Timbers’ two children committed suicide.
“When Heather is clean, she is a good person,” Tribby said.
Fleming said he was unsure whether he could deliver the “justice” for which both families were searching, but stressed the opportunities for redemption and forgiveness in the future.
“Ms. Timbers made a number of bad decisions that brought us here today. Both of these friends made some bad decisions,” Fleming said. He pointed to the medical examiner’s report that attributed Black’s death to a combination of high alcohol intake—his blood alcohol concentration was measured at 0.32, a potentially lethal level four times over the legal limit for driving—and heroin use.
Because of Timbers’ lack of prior criminal history and the fact that she was charged with distribution by accommodation (sharing drugs with a friend) rather than distributing drugs as a dealer, Virginia’s sentencing guidelines recommended she spend no more than six months in jail.
Fleming, who viewed the 41 minutes of video surveillance footage that showed Black and Timbers in the hotel hallways and her efforts to carry him back to the room, pointed to the hours that passed after Black collapsed in the stairwell as the “driving factor” in the imposing a significantly higher sentence.
He sentenced her to two years in prison on each of the drug charges and eight years on the involuntary manslaughter conviction, all to be served consecutively for a total of 12 years. He suspended all but four years, allowing eight years to be waived if she successfully leads a crime-free life following her release.