Man charged with homicide in overdose of officer's stepdaughter

- When Sydney Schergen died of a drug overdose last year, Theresa Almanza found herself in an unusual position.

Almanza, a Chicago Police gang officer accustomed to solving crimes involving other people’s families, set out to seek justice for her own stepdaughter.

More than a year after her death, the man suspected of selling ecstasy to Schergen was charged Friday with drug-induced homicide, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Brent Tyssen, 22, was ordered held in lieu of $400,000 bail on Saturday at the Leighton Criminal Court building. Tyssen is accused of selling ecstasy, also known as MDMA, to Schergen on May 30, 2015. She overdosed on the drug the next day.

Almanza said she urged detectives to investigate her 18-year-old stepdaughter’s death as a homicide after an initial death investigation was closed without charges.

Prosecutors in the suburbs regularly bring such homicide cases, she said.

“I felt like if I let it go, then what happened to Sydney was OK, and it wasn’t OK,” she said. “I feel if two people are on the corner and are selling drugs, they go to jail. When you add a death to it, why would it no longer be criminal?”

Almanza said she is “thankful to the detectives for their hard work.”

She believes Schergen’s drug use stems from depression she suffered over the death of her mother when Schergen was just 3 — and sexual abuse she endured at the hands of a relative who was never charged with the crime.

“She was very kind and giving and compassionate, “ Almanza said. “I think because of what happened to her, she would pull the car over to give homeless people change. She knew many of them had that same deep depression that she had. She related to them.”

Schergen was a standout high-school athlete at Queen of Peace High School in southwest suburban Burbank. A month before she died, she signed up to play volleyball at Moraine Valley Community College.

Tyssen was the boyfriend of one of Schergen’s cousins. Schergen met them at a party where she bought the drugs, Almanza said. She went home and died in her sleep.

In May, the Sun-Times reported that prosecutors in the suburbs have been filing charges under the drug-induced homicide statute much more frequently than Cook County prosecutors.

The statute was broadened in 2002 to cover anyone who delivers drugs involved in a fatal overdose. Between 2002 and May, Cook County prosecutors had approved drug-induced homicide charges nine times, compared with 18 in DuPage County and 40 in Lake County, court records showed.

Critics of the law say it can scare away heroin users from seeking help.

Earlier this year, Eugene Roy, the now-retired chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department, set out to re-examine how the department uses the statute.

He met with law-enforcement authorities in other jurisdictions and asked his detectives to review fatal overdose cases to see whether they could be prosecuted under the statute, said Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the department.

The problem is enormous: hundreds of people have died of heroin-related deaths in Cook County this year alone.

“Yes, these cases can be hard to prosecute,” Almanza said. “But people are dying in such significant numbers that they have to do this.”

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