Police: Documents left at front doorstep link heroin dealer to fatal overdose victim
DAMASCUS, Md. (ABC7) — Friday, October 13, 2017, started like any other weekday for Pat Beles. The mother of three woke up and ran her regular round of errands, which included walking the family Yorkshire Terrier, Marley, in her sleepy Damascus neighborhood.
Beles returned to her home along Showbarn Circle and noticed her youngest child, Eric Danko, was still in his bedroom. It was around noon. Danko lived in West Hollywood, California, but had flown back to Maryland to visit his mother, stepfather, siblings, nieces and nephews for a couple of weeks.
Beles twisted the doorknob to Danko’s bedroom, but it was locked. She went to get the key, entirely unprepared for the nightmarish view behind the wooden door.
“I went in and said, "Eric! Eric!" His head was just slumped over and I thought, perhaps he just fell asleep that way, but as soon as I went over and touched him, he was ice cold. He was black and blue," Beles shared with tears filling her eyes. "It was the worst moment of my life, and I was here all by myself.”
The 61-year-old retired public school employee admits she does not recall every precise movement in the moments thereafter. She does, however, remember calling 911. The operator on the other end of the line advised Beles try to provide CPR, but Danko's body was too heavy for her to remove from the bed. The 911 operator suggested Beles use a sheet to bring her son's body to the bedroom floor.
“I just remember that noise of him hitting the ground, and I felt so bad," Beles added. “It's just something that I am never going to forget."
Montgomery County officers dispatched to the scene located a used syringe, charred metal spoon and empty baggie with residue beside Danko’s taut body. The 27-year-old sudden death was listed as the latest casualty in the nationwide heroin epidemic.
Beles called her husband in emotional disarray. He was hundreds of miles away in North Carolina, on a fishing trip with a few buddies. He packed up his bait and tackle and sped home upon learning the horrid news.
For days, Beles lived in a mental fog of funeral preparations, apologetic phone calls, Hallmark sympathy cards and an ocean's worth of tears.
Damning Documents Left On The Front Doorstep
On October 23 — 10 days after Danko’s death — Beles discovered an unexpected stack of paper under the "welcome" mat on her front doorstep. The documents contained "printouts" of text message conversations between Danko and a phone number with a 202 area code. The messages were dated from September 30 through October 12, one day before Danko died.
Beles and her husband delivered the mysterious paperwork to Montgomery County Police. Investigators used Facebook to determine the 202-phone number belonged to a 29-year-old Northwest, D.C. man named Samuel Sturc. Detectives would later file seven criminal charges against Sturc, accusing him of dealing the potent heroin to Danko. The charges, which include distribution of fentanyl/heroin mix, pack a combined punch of up to 85 years in prison.
The following are excerpts from a handful of the alleged text messages between Sturc and Danko. Note: some contain grammatical and spelling errors. Foul language has been partially redacted.
September 30, 2017:
Sturc: "This stuff is China white by the way I wouldn't steer you wrong like its strong please for God's sake do not even do half the bag when you get it."
Danko: "Sh** is bomb... good looks I appreciate you helping me out with that Sam."
October 1, 2017:
Sturc: "You gonna need green or let me know if you want more of that. I'll drop the price."
Danko: "I can barely do it I did like s small line and am still So fu**** up."
October 2, 2017:
Sturc: "You need anything."
Danko: "Nah I'm good I'm literally still itchy."
Sturc: "Yea it's good dope. No fent in it though. I can get fent."
On October 10, messages indicate Danko agreed to pay Sturc $200 for a batch of heroin, in addition to a $20 delivery fee.
On October 12, messages imply Sturc and Danko engaged in yet another transaction at Danko's mother's home. Danko’s last message was time stamped around 9:16 p.m. Beles found her son dead 15 hours later, clueless as to how he’d obtained the illegal drugs.
“An angel up above brought that information to us," said Beles, who vows she does not know who left the incriminating documents on her doorstep. “I think it was someone who truly cared about Eric and wanted some justice done. They wanted us to know.”
Authorities explain Sturc lived in an apartment building along the 4200-block of Massachusetts Avenue NW, near American University. Detailed Verizon Wireless records later revealed Sturc's cell phone was in the "immediate vicinity" of Damascus on the day Danko died, plus October 10 — some 30 miles from his apartment.
“These cell phone records prove that Sam knew what he was selling Eric, and he went ahead and did it anyway," Beles remarked. “I guess words can’t describe how angry I really am and what he’s done to our family.”
A Suburban Teenager's Path To Heroin Addiction
Eric Danko attended Damascus High School where he was badly bullied, in part for being gay. Beles believes her son began to dabble with drugs around the age of 17, likely as an escape from the reality of his teenage woes.
By the age 18, Beles had enrolled Danko in the Mountain Manor Treatment Center in Thurmont, Maryland. However, the program did little good in kicking his addiction to drugs.
By 21, Danko boarded a plane for a new treatment facility in Malibu, California, thousands of miles away from the bad influences he had grown accustomed to in Montgomery County. The second round of intensive drug therapy proved to be more successful.
Yet, instead of booking a flight back to Maryland, Danko opted to put down roots in SoCal, making new friends and applying for job within the retail industry.
"That plan really backfired on me," Beles said with a chuckle. "I didn't intend for him to stay out there, but he loved it.”
The strong mother-son bond did not dwindle with distance. Danko would often call or text his mother, sharing everything from trivial matters to deeply personal information.
In his free time, Danko enjoyed relaxing at the beach, skateboarding across town and maintaining a chiseled figure by attending the gym daily. He also took frequent hikes in the picturesque canyons of Los Angeles County.
Professionally, Danko worked a number of jobs during his six years in California, including a tanning salon, Starbucks, Equinox Fitness and Barneys New York department store.
"That was his favorite, working at Barneys. He sold hair products and moisturizer. The women in California loved him," said Beles. “He looked and acted the part.”
Despite the warm California sunshine and salty Pacific Ocean waters, the pull of heroin was simply too great for Danko. The most recent relapse turned out to be insurmountable for the 27-year-old.
“I loved him unconditionally whether he was using drugs or not, I think that’s what parents should do," Beles stated candidly. "I am just thankful that he died here, with me. After all, I brought him into this world. It would have been very hard to get a phone call from the West Coast."
Judgment Day Awaits
Defense attorney Thomas DeGonia is representing Sturc in the pending criminal matter. DeGonia did not respond to emails seeking comment for this story.
According to Maryland Judiciary Case Search, Samuel Sturc remains in custody and is expected to plead guilty on June 7. The terms and conditions of the planned plea deal have not yet been made public.
Meanwhile, a cross-adorned urn holds Eric Danko’s ashes. The tall, rounded vase sits on a corner table in Beles’ living room, surrounded by three white angel figurines.
“Whatever happens to [Samuel Sturc] and whatever kind of sentencing he gets, he’s going to have to live for the rest of his life knowing that he contributed to my son’s death,” Beles concluded.