Trial begins in case of Newport Beach bar worker accused of selling fentanyl that killed 1 in 2016

Jurors in the case of an Aliso Viejo man accused of selling fentanyl to a deceased person and three others who collapsed six years ago at the Newport Beach bar where he worked heard on Wednesday the testimony of his former colleagues and the paramedics who treated the victims.

US attorneys allege 42-year-old Sean Robert McLaughlin sold fentanyl that killed Ahmed Said, then 25, of Santa Ana and knocked three of his friends unconscious near the dance floor of American Junkie, formerly at 2406 Newport Blvd. , in the early hours of Friday, November 18, 2016. He is also charged with trafficking MDMA, hydrocodone, methamphetamine and cocaine in a six-count indictment filed May 12.

McLaughlin’s attorney, Dan Chambers, said many other people in the crowded nightclub that night could have sold the opioid that killed Said and sent two of his friends, Josh Selley and Daron Muratyan, to the hospital. He also said drug use appeared to have been “endemic” at the now closed bar.

“We think the videotape shows something quite different from what the government is saying,” Chambers said. “We believe there were several people there that night who were providing medicine to these people.”

Footage recorded that morning and played in court on Wednesday showed what appeared to be Selley handing cash to McLaughlin, standing mostly out of frame, near a lift to the bar’s second floor at 12:28 a.m. At 12:54 a.m., a group of customers spotted Saïd unconscious on the ground in that same area. Around this time, staff were trying to wake Selley and Muratyan as they slipped into a booth in the bar’s bottle service section.

Carly Burch was then a floor manager and director of events at American Junkie and was at the bar picking up papers that night, she said on the witness stand Wednesday. She said she and other employees initially thought the victims had been drinking too much. She was talking to Selley and shaking him in hopes of waking him up, but he was almost completely unresponsive.

“He couldn’t stand up and his eyes were closed,” Burch said.

Staff called 911, turned off the music, and emptied the bar while they waited for paramedics. As they cared for Said, Selley and Muratyan, one of their friends, Frankie Alvarez, seemed to lose his footing in the surveillance footage. Employees caught him before he fell to the ground.

Aaron Reed of the Newport Beach Fire Department was one of the first paramedics to arrive. He said he encountered a “chaotic scene” during his testimony.

“You don’t normally see a lot of people overdosing at once,” he said. “At least back then, but things might be different now,” he added, alluding to a growing rate of fentanyl distribution and overdoses in Orange County and across the country.

Reed said the two people he personally treated that night had “pinpoint pupils” and shallow breathing, telltale signs of an opioid overdose. He had to administer a “significant amount of Narcan” in order to get them to breathe normally again. Narcan is a branded variant of the drug naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids like fentanyl.

Police searched the bar that evening and found a vacuum sealed pouch and glass vials filled with a crystalline powder, a large number of pills and small sachets decorated with black scorpions inside a locker used by staff. A former company bartender, Briana Borski, said the locker was used by McLaughlin and secured with her padlock.

Police also found a bag with a black scorpion design on it containing white powder in a notebook stored in a different locker, which was used by a former employee, Dalton Rosene, and not secured with a lock.

Rosene said the notebook belonged to him, but he denied ever seeing the cover or using narcotics when testifying on Wednesday. He said it was not uncommon to find customers taking drugs in the bar.

Borski said customers caught using narcotics would be kicked out of the business almost every weekend. She also said McLaughlin would occasionally supply her with Adderall to help keep her alert during long shifts.

Borski said the defendant did not ask her to pay for the prescription drugs and she did not recall seeing the defendant dispensing them to other employees. She also had difficulty remembering details of statements she gave to detectives.

When asked if she had seen McLaughlin in the courtroom, Borski could not recognize him as he sat in a much heavier wheelchair than he had in the surveillance footage from six years ago.

McLaughlin’s lawyers did not say why he appeared in the courtroom in a wheelchair.

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.

About James K. Bonnette

Check Also

Kim Petras speaks out on mass shooting at Colorado Springs Gay Bar

Melissa Etheridge will never forget the first time she walked into a gay bar. She …