Trial begins for man accused of selling drugs that led to a fatal overdose in Centre County

Michael Vivian was one of 22 people to die of a drug overdose death in Centre County last year. The trial for the Lycoming County man accused of selling the fentanyl that killed Vivian began Monday at the Centre County Courthouse.

Savoy Jennings, 27, was the first of four people charged in connection with Vivian’s death to go to trial. The drugs sold by Jennings “burned up the life” of Vivian, Centre County Deputy District Attorney Sean McGraw said during his opening statement.

Jada Ferguson, 32, of Clinton County; Chelsea Mehalick, 31, of State College, and Troy Decker, 44, of Moshannon, are all in the midst of plea negotiations, according to court documents.

State police at Rockview in November accused Jennings of selling more than 20 bags of heroin with fentanyl to Ferguson, who shared the drugs with Vivian and Mehalick. The trio of “addicts,” McGraw said, then returned to Snow Shoe from Williamsport.

Vivian was unconscious and “in very bad shape.” His body was dragged into a residence, where Ferguson unsuccessfully attempted to revive him, McGraw said.

The group devised a plan to drive Vivian’s body to a gas station, call police and say they found a hitchhiker who died in the car. Police determined their story was not truthful, and Ferguson and Mehalick recanted, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed by police.

Cellphone tower and Facebook data showed Jennings traveled from Philadelphia and was in Williamsport during the sale, McGraw said. Vivian died of a multi-drug overdose, forensic pathologist Harry Kamerow testified.

“This defendant knew — and knew for years — that the dope he was selling could kill,” McGraw said. “... The policy of this district attorney’s office is to aggressively prosecute the dealers, not the addicts.”

Jennings was charged with one felony count of drug delivery resulting in death, two felony counts of possession with intent to deliver, one felony count of criminal use of a communication facility and one misdemeanor count of recklessly endangering another person.

In his opening statement, defense lawyer Steve Trialonas said he and Jennings were ready to “fight tooth and nail” to determine who was criminally responsible for Vivian’s death.

“That’s what you do when you’re falsely accused, right?” Trialonas said. “... The opioid crisis is not on trial today. This has been going on for years. It’s a systemic problem. There is no easy solution.”

As the trial approached, Jennings was released after he posted $100,000 bail. That only lasted a few months, as an undercover Lycoming County detective in January and February purchased a combined 32 bags of heroin from Jennings, according to a court document filed in April.

The same phone number, which belonged to Jennings, was used to arrange all three drug deliveries, McGraw said.

About 12 people are scheduled to testify, McGraw said. The jury of seven women and five men are scheduled to issue a verdict Wednesday.

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.