Note: This story was last updated at 5:20 p.m. Aug. 27.
CLINTON—A 30-year-old man received a two-year suspended sentence Monday when he pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide after a drug and alcohol overdose in October 2016 killed a 26-year-old employee of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce and former goalkeeper for the Oak Ridge Lady Wildcats soccer team.
The two-year sentence for Troy Andrew Venable was suspended with credit for time served in jail (about four hours), and he was placed on supervised probation during a 15-minute plea agreement hearing in Anderson County Criminal Court on Monday. Venable is to undergo a drug and alcohol assessment. He was also ordered to pay $1,850.50 in court costs.
The overdose killed Lauren Alexandra Fritts, 26, on Saturday, October 8, 2016. She had consumed alcohol, crushed and inhaled 60 milligram roxycodone pills with her boyfriend, Paul Mize, and drank at a bar before using heroin supplied by Venable sometime after midnight—after Fritts and Mize got into an argument, according to alleged facts read in court on Monday.
Fritts reportedly passed out after using heroin at Venable’s home on Tacoma Road in Oak Ridge, and Venable gave a few different stories about what happened, said Tony Craighead, deputy district attorney general in the Seventh Judicial District in Anderson County. Venable said he sprayed Fritts’ face with water and may have moved her body.
“He did supply the heroin to her,” Craighead told the court, referring to Venable.
Mize went to the Tacoma Road home the morning after the argument to look for her, after she didn’t return home and wouldn’t answer her phone, Craighead said. Fritts was found face-down on the bathroom floor shortly after 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 8, 2016.
The state’s theory was that Venable gave heroin to Fritts, left her unattended, and did not call for help, Craighead said.
The heroin alone may not have been the cause of death. A pathologist found that Fritts died of an acute combined drug overdose that included heroin, alcohol, and roxycodone, Craighead said.
Criminally negligent homicide was a reduced charge, part of the plea deal. Venable had been charged with reckless homicide–a Class D felony rather than a Class E felony–in an April 2017 indictment. It’s believed to have been the first homicide indictment by a grand jury for a drug-related fatality in Anderson County.
The grand jury considered a more serious second-degree murder charge, but it did not indict Venable on that charge.
Venable, who was represented by defense attorney Mike Ritter on Monday, entered a best-interest plea. That means he didn’t admit that he is guilty, but he recognized that he could receive a longer sentence if he were convicted at trial. A best-interest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea.
His potential sentence had ranged from one year probation and no fine to six years in prison and a $6,000 fine, Anderson County Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge said.
Craighead said Fritts’ father, Steve Fritts, who did not attend the hearing, was very upset, but the state explained the elements of the crime and plea deal to him. Venable had one prior conviction in Anderson County, a driving under the influence charge that was pleaded down to reckless endangerment, according to court records. He was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days in that case and was ordered to serve unsupervised probation in January 2017.
After the plea agreement hearing on Monday, Caitlin Nolan, a childhood friend of Lauren’s, said it’s been a long road, almost three years since Fritts’ death.
“Two lives were forever changed that day, and only one person got to walk out of the courtroom,” Nolan said.
Fritts had a young son, and she was an Oak Ridge High School graduate and former All-State goalkeeper for the Lady Wildcats. She attended St. Mary’s School in Oak Ridge and graduated in 2009 from Oak Ridge High School. She studied at Roane State Community College and East Tennessee State University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management. At the time of her death, she was the member and customer service representative at the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
Her death has left a son without his mother, a father without his daughter, and a sister without her sister, said Nolan, who attended St. Mary’s with Fritts, played soccer with her, and went to Oak Ridge High School with her.
She said she knows Troy Venable as well, and she prays for the Venable family also.
“This had been a hard situation for everyone involved,” Nolan said. “It’s something that no one ever wanted to happen.”
She said she hopes something good can come out of the case, although she’s not sure what that might be.
Anderson County is not the only jurisdiction that has started charging defendants with homicide and second-degree murder as cities, counties, and states battle the nation’s opioid epidemic. See our previous story here for more information.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
You can contact John Huotari, owner and publisher of Oak Ridge Today, at (865) 951-9692 or [email protected]
Most news stories on Oak Ridge Today are free, brought to you by Oak Ridge Today with help from our advertisers, sponsors, and subscribers. This is a free story. Thank you to our advertisers, sponsors, and subscribers. You can see what we cover here.
Do you appreciate this story or our work in general? If so, please consider a monthly subscription to Oak Ridge Today. See our Subscribe page here. Thank you for reading Oak Ridge Today.
Copyright 2019 Oak Ridge Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.