A year after the body of a Jenison woman was found in a southern Kent County field, two people police say dumped her there after she died of a drug overdose have been charged with failing to report her death.
The body of 35-year-old April Renee Keenan was discovered off Patterson Avenue north of 84th Street SE in Gaines Township in June, 2016. It’s about 23 miles from where investigators believe she died from mixed drug toxicity.
Two companions who police believe were with Keenan the night she died, and who found her body the next morning, “panicked’’ and decided to dispose of the body rather than call police, said Kent County Sheriff’s Lt. Ronald Gates.
“They panicked when they found her dead, so they wrapped her body in a blanket, loaded her into a vehicle and drove her to a country road and dumped her,’’ Gates said.
An autopsy determined Keenan died from a toxic mix of fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and alcohol.
Keenan’s death certificate says she died on June 16, 2016. Passersby found her body early the afternoon of June 17. Authorities say it hadn’t been there long before being discovered. After releasing the victim’s identity, detectives sought the public’s help in determining Keenan’s whereabouts prior to her death.
Within four days, they identified Hassan Said Alhillo and Rebecca Piper Ziegler as possible suspects. Criminal charges were filed last month.
The pair are charged with failing to report the discovery of a dead body, a seldom-used misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Alhillo, 44, has a hearing set for next week in 63rd District Court. He is free on bond.
Ziegler, 33, pleaded guilty as charged earlier this week and will return to court for sentencing in September. She is currently in the Kent County Jail on unrelated charges.
“It would have been a very avoidable charge should they have just called police,’’ said Kent County Sheriff’s Sgt. Joel Roon. “To learn that your loved one was discovered in this way is a very difficult thing for a family member to hear.’’
There is no indication Alhillo or Ziegler were involved in Keenan’s overdose, which occurred at an address where Alhillo was staying on Stuart Drive NE near Plainfield Avenue north of Four Mile Road in Kent County’s Plainfield Township.
“We back-tracked and tried to find out where she was last seen,’’ Gates said. That led investigators to Alhillo and Ziegler.
“They admitted they were together that night and admitted that April had taken some type of drugs, but they said they did not participate,’’ Gates said. “They said she did it on her own. They wake up the next day and she is dead.’’
Michigan is now one of about 40 states with some form of good Samaritan law that encourages people to seek medical attention for an overdose victim without having to fear arrest and prosecution.
Michigan’s law, which took effect in January, provides immunity from arrest and prosecution for drug possession when a person is seeking medical attention for themselves or someone else who is experiencing a drug overdose.
The measure expands existing good Samaritan laws for teenagers in an effort to make sure that people call for help for their friends or family members without fear of arrest.
Although the law has no direct bearing on the Kent County case, Roon says the circumstances mirror other overdose deaths that might have been prevented.
“The new good Samaritan laws address this circumstance specifically where you have a group of people who are partying, one begins to suffer an overdose and the other involved parties are afraid to seek medical attention for fear of arrest,’’ he said.
“We would advise you to seek medical attention if you can, and if someone ultimately passes away from an overdose, obviously call the police as opposed to trying to dispose of the body yourself,’’ Roon said.
Keenan was one of 93 overdose deaths in Kent County last year; about a third were from heroin.
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