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Former Angels Employee Charged for Supplying Deadly Drugs to Tyler Skaggs

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the arrest of former Angels employee Eric Kay.

Eric Kay, the former Los Angeles Angels media relations employee implicated in the 2019 overdose death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs, has been arrested and charged with distributing fentanyl, a federal crime for which Kay faces up to 20 years in prison.

In a related criminal complaint, the Drug Enforcement Administration concluded that fentanyl is what killed Skaggs.

Skaggs, 27, was found dead in his hotel room in Southlake, Texas, on July 1, 2019. A medical examination later determined that Skaggs choked to death on the contents of his stomach due to a fatal mixture of alcohol, oxycodone and fentanyl, a powerful opioid that has led to thousands of overdose deaths in the U.S.

Fentanyl and oxycodone (a less potent opioid) can be prescribed legally, but are often made and distributed outside the law. Fentanyl, considered the most dangerous of all opioids, has a potency 30 to 50 times higher than morphine.

According to an ESPN report in October 2019, Kay admitted to DEA investigators that he supplied Skaggs with opioid pills on occasion, including “a day or two before the team left California for the road trip to Texas.

“Kay told DEA agents he does not think the pills he obtained for Skaggs were the same ones the pitcher took the day he died,” the ESPN report continued, “because Skaggs typically would ingest the pills immediately after receiving them from Kay ... Skaggs also texted Kay the day the team left for Texas seeking more oxycodone, a request Kay told investigators he was unable to fulfill …”

The DEA complaint, filed last week, reveals text messages between Kay and Skaggs in the hours before Skaggs’s fatal overdose. That afternoon, Kay texted Skaggs: “Hoe [sic] many?”

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Skaggs replied: “Just a few like 5 … Don’t need many”

It is unclear whether these text messages were sent before or after the Angels flew from California to Texas, for their series against the Rangers. (The Angels played the Athletics that same day, in Anaheim, in a game that ended at about 4:30 p.m. PT. The team flew to Texas that evening.) The seven-page DEA complaint does not make clear whether Kay fulfilled Skaggs’s request.

About nine hours after the earlier text exchange, Skaggs texted Kay his room number at the Dallas-area hotel where the Angels had checked in, along with an invitation to “Come by,” the DEA complaint states. According the Oct. 2019 ESPN report, Kay said he visited Skaggs in his room but that night did not take drugs with him.

After Skaggs’s body was discovered the next day, investigators found a blue pill, five pink pills, “and several white pills that were determined to be [non-lethal] anti-inflammatories,” the complaint says.

The blue pill, according to the complaint, was found to be a black-market oxycodone pill that also contained fentanyl. Criminal drug distributors often “cut” fentanyl into their illicitly made pills to increase their potency.

“Many of those who overdose on [fentanyl] will never even know they took it,” U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox, of the Northern District of Texas, said in a video statement posted Friday. She continued: “The government alleges in its complaint that it was Mr. Kay who gave Mr. Skaggs those same pills the night he died.”

The five pink pills found in Skaggs’s room “did not contain fentanyl ,” the DEA complaint said. Kay was not the source of these pink pills, which had the markings of a 5-milligram dose of oxycodone. White residue that tested positive for fentanyl was also found on the floor.

Phone calls to Kay’s attorneys were not immediately returned. Kay was placed on leave by the Angels last year after the team learned of his involvement with Skaggs’s drug use. He is no longer an employee of the team.

The Angels released a statement on Friday that states, in part: “The Angels Organization has fully cooperated with Law Enforcement and Major League Baseball. Additionally, in order to comprehensively understand the circumstances that led to his death, we hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation.

“We learned that there was unacceptable behavior inconsistent with our code of conduct, and we took steps to address it. Our investigation also confirmed that no one in management was aware, or informed, of any employee providing opioids to any player, nor that Tyler was using opioids.”

Attorney Rusty Hardin, who represents the Skaggs family, responded with his own statement, which included a call for transparency from Skaggs’s former employer: “We note that the Angels say they commissioned an independent investigation that concluded no one in management was aware that a team employee was supplying illegal drugs to Tyler. We encourage the Angels to make that report public.”