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CENTENNIAL- 9Wants to Know has learned a former Cherry Creek Schools teacher's aide is under arrest and accused of being involved in the deaths of four young adults who died of drug overdoses.

Almeda Sullivan, 50, is currently locked up in the Arapahoe County Detention Center and is expected to face a first degree murder charge for the death of Carter Higdon, 21.

"It's a statute that is used in drive-by shootings, driving on to a sidewalk, shooting into a crowd of people," said 9News Legal Analyst Scott Robinson. "It's an unusual use of the 'extreme indifference' first degree murder statute."

Investigators, in court records, say Sullivan acted with "extreme indifference" when she supplied drugs to Higdon and other young adults.

Higdon was found dead in Sullivan's home in 2011 after overdosing on alcohol, Xanax and Opana.

Opana is a relatively new painkiller growing popular among drug addicts because it's easier to crush and snort than other pain medications.

Court documents obtained by 9Wants to Know describe Sullivan as a popular drug dealer of pain medication to numerous young adults.

The four deaths connected to Sullivan occurred between 2008 and 2011, with two of them occurring in Sullivan's home:

  • Carter Lee Higdon - Age 21
  • Sierra Renee Cochran - Age 19
  • Lindsey Jo Saidy - Age 28
  • Martynas "Tez" Simanskas - Age 20

Cochran, Saidy and Simanskas were all friends, according to the court records. Saidy and Simanskas died on the same day, February 8th 2008.

All four deaths involved the fatal over dose of several drugs, including Opana.

Court records say Sullivan was a bus driver and then a teacher's aide at Cherry Creek School District between 2003 and 2005.

Three years after she left her teacher's aide position at West Middle School, the first person connected to Sullivan, Sierra Cochran, fatally overdosed.

A spokesperson for Cherry Creek School District says there is no evidence that Sullivan was dealing drugs while employed as a teacher's aide.

Three of the people who fatally overdosed were former students of Cherry Creek High School.

Documents say investigators found numerous prescription and illegal drugs at her Centennial home during the death of investigation of Higdon.

After interviewing witnesses and talking to numerous people connected Higdon, investigators eventually found the other three fatal overdoses connected to Sullivan, according to records.

In the court records, a witness describes Sullivan as a possible drug dealer among young adults who would sell to "white college preppy boys."

Sullivan declined an interview with 9News.

As of this publication, she is currently locked up at the Arapahoe County Detention Center under the current murder charge and other drug and theft charges.

PAINKILLER OPANA LINKED TO MURDER INVESTIGATION

The use and abuse of pain medication is at the center of this investigation,

The affidavit alleges Sullivan supplied many young people with a relatively new drug known by the brand name Opana.

Opana is now the painkiller of choice for a lot of addicts because it has similar side effects to Oxycontin.

The makers of Oxycontin changed the formula a few years ago to make it harder to snort and inject.

Opana is much easier to crush and dissolve, which means a faster and more deadly high.

"These pills are more dangerous than heroin," said Dr. Max Wachtel, a Denver-based forensic psychologist.

Powerful painkillers that should only come from a pharmacy were allegedly sold to young people at Sullivan's former home on the 7200 block of East Bentley Circle in Centennial.

"My first thought was that this was just chilling," said Wachtel after reading the 31-page affidavit.

Sullivan is accused of using fake names, including her dead husband, to get 21,580 pills from multiple doctors over a 5-year period from 2007 to 2011.

She's accused of selling those pills to young people, many of them students at Cherry Creek High School.

"Kids who go to a large urban high school with a lot of money, they are a great target," said Wachtel.

Court records say Sullivan was a bus driver and teacher's aide at the Cherry Creek School District between 2003 and 2005, but left her job and began selling drugs to make a living.

Wachtel says the affidavit indicates Sullivan had a bizarre relationship with her young customers.

"She would introduce herself as their mom, they would sleep over at her house. She would be feeding them drugs allegedly while they were incoherent," said Wachtel.

Sullivan is accused of teaching the teens how to crush and snort Opana, releasing the medication instantly.

"It provides an incredible high for the abuser which could potentially put their lives in serious danger," said Denver Health pharmacy director Thomas Kirschling.

Kirschling says an overdose of Opana can cause death by respiratory failure.

"Makes it difficult for someone to breathe," Kirschling said.

21 year-old Carter Higdon overdosed on Opana, Xanax, and alcohol in 2011 inside Sullivan's home.

19-year-old Sierra Cochran also died in Sullivan's house in 2008.

In all, 4 young people overdosed on pills which they allegedly got from Sullivan.

Have a comment or tip for investigative reporter Jeremy Jojola? Call him at 303-871-1425 or e-mail him
jeremy.jojola@9news.com