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Former L.A. Angels employee charged in pitcher Tyler Skaggs' fatal opioid overdose

Tyler Skaggs was just 27 when he was found dead in his hotel room, as his team prepared to play the Texas Rangers.

A former Los Angeles Angels employee was criminally charged for allegedly supplying drugs that killed pitcher Tyler Skaggs last year, officials said Friday.

Eric Prescott Kay, who was director of communications for the Major League Baseball team at the time of the incident, was charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas.

Text messages on June 30, 2019, between Kay, 45, and Skaggs showed the Angels pitcher asking Kay to deliver pills to his room at a Hilton hotel in Southlake, Texas, according to a criminal complaint written by Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Geoffrey Lindenberg.

The Angels were in the Dallas area to play the Texas Rangers when the 27-year-old Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room on July 1 of last year.

Skaggs ingested a lethal combination of opioids and alcohol before choking on his own vomit due to "mixed ethanol, fentanyl and oxycodone intoxication," according to findings made last year by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner.

The powerful drug fentanyl is an easy ingredient for dealers and traffickers to slip into pills, and too many times, the drug takers don't realize what they're ingesting, according to U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox.

Skaggs likely believed he was taking just oxycodone and not a deadly combination with fentanyl, the prosecutor said.

"But for the fentanyl, Mr. Skaggs would be alive today," Cox told reporters outside a Fort Worth courthouse where Kay was arraigned earlier.

More than 30,000 Americans died in 2019 from fentanyl-related overdoses, according to the prosecutor.

Counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl also led to the death of hip-hop artist Mac Miller in 2018, according to investigators.

"Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine," Cox said Friday.

"The devastation caused by this deadly scourge has swept across the country and landed in all of our backyards. Though a small portion of fentanyl is diverted for medical settings, a vast majority of fentanyl on the streets is illicitly produced."

The Los Angeles Angels place their jerseys on the mound in honor of Tyler Skaggs on July 12, 2019 in Anaheim, Calif.Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

In a joint statement to NBC News on Saturday, Kay's defense lawyers Michael Molfetta and Reagan Wynn said their client "willingly traveled to Texas from California to surrender himself" and will now "patiently wait for his opportunity to make his story known."

"We have incredible respect for the court system and the process, so we will wait for the appropriate time to address the allegation," the lawyers said, asking the public to reserve judgment until their side of the case can be heard in court.

"We are disheartened by the actions of those who have elected to leak information and publicize documents. It serves to undermine the basic tenet of our system of justice…the dispassionate ascertainment of the truth," the statement said.

Kay was released after surrendering his passport and agreeing not to drink or take any illicit drugs, submit to drug testing, attend drug abuse therapy and limit travel to only Texas and California, according to court records.

The Angels said in a statement on Friday that the club has been cooperating with investigators and hired a former federal prosector to conduct an internal probe.

"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," the Angels said.

"As we try to heal from the loss of Tyler, we continue to work with authorities as they complete their investigation."

Kay has told investigators that Skaggs' struggle with addiction was known in some quarters of the Angels organization, and that he had told his supervisor about it — though the team has denied that accusation.

Rusty Hardin, a Texas lawyer representing Skaggs' family, urged the Angels to reveal more details of their independent investigation of Kay, who had worked for the team for 24 years.

"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," Hardin said in a statement.

"We encourage the Angels to make that report public. We are relieved that no one else who was supplied drugs by this Angels executive met the same fate as Tyler."

In the complaint made public on Friday, Lindenberg wrote that Kay had supplied drugs to Skaggs on multiple occasions before the player's untimely passing in Texas.

"During the course of the investigation, I learned that T.S. and Kay had a history of narcotic transactions, including serval exchanges wherein Kay acquired oxycodone pills for T.S. and others from Kay's source(s) in the days leading up to and surrounding T.S.'s overdose death," according to the DEA agent.

These pills were called "blues" or "blue boys," and "Kay would distribute these pills to T.S. and others in their place of employment and while they were working," Lindenberg alleged.

Cox called Skaggs a "left-hander with a ton of promise, a good teammate and a hard worker."

"Tyler Skaggs’s death — coming, as it did, in the midst of an ascendant baseball career — should be a wakeup call," Cox added.

"No one is immune from the deadly addictive nature of these drugs, whether sold as a powder or hidden inside an innocuous-looking tablet. Anyone can be fooled by counterfeit prescription drugs."

The investigation is ongoing and more arrests are possible, officials said.

"As with today’s arrest of Eric Kay, the DEA will continue to identify and investigate individuals and organizations responsible for the illicit trafficking of counterfeit and diverted controlled prescription drugs," DEA Special Agent in Charge Eduardo A. Chávez told reporters in Fort Worth.

"We will hold each and everyone of you accountable. "

The Southern California native Skaggs was selected by the Angels with the 40th overall pick of the 2009 MLB Draft. He was traded twice in his young career, from the Angels to the Arizona Diamondbacks before he was dealt back to Anaheim.

Skaggs struggled with injuries throughout his career and missed the entire 2015 season recovering from surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament — a procedure known commonly in baseball as "Tommy John surgery."

The Angles franchise is a relatively young one by MLB standards, coming into existence in 1961, and the club has suffered its share of in-season tragedies.

Standout outfielder Lyman Bostock was gunned down in Gary, Indiana, in 1978 when his team was in town to play the Chicago White Sox. The estranged husband of an acquaintance in Bostock's group opened fire and killed the 27-year-old Angels slugger.

And in 2009, a drunken driver plowed inyp a car carrying 22-year-old Angles pitcher Nick Adenhart, killing him and two others. Adenhart had thrown six shutout innings in a game hours before his death.

Diana Dasrath contributed.