Bath salts linked to bizarre Camano Island crime

The bizarre and gruesome case of a naked man who ate the face off of a homeless man in Miami this month has led to speculations that the attacker was high on a designer street drug known as “bath salts.”

The use of the synthetic stimulant, which causes hallucinations, has been linked to murders, suicides and deaths from overdoses nationwide. Fort Lewis soldier David Stewart was high on bath salts when he shot and killed his girlfriend and himself in April of 2011. His 5-year-old son was found murdered at home, asphyxiated with a plastic bag.

While detectives say they aren’t concerned about a big problem with bath salts in Island County, use of the banned substance may have been the cause of a sad and violent case on Camano Island.

Detective Carl Seim with the Oak Harbor Police Department said he hasn’t had any cases involving bath salts, though he heard that Naval Criminal Investigative Service has investigated a couple of bath-salt-related cases on Whidbey that involved sailors. He conducted a sting operation of smoke shops and other retailers to see if they were selling bath salts or synthetic marijuana, but came up empty.

“You can still get them online,” he said. “That’s where the problem lies.”

Seim explained that the drug was sold as “bath salts” in order to escape the notice of the law. The packages state that they’re “not for human consumption” to get around the Food and Drug Administration.

The federal government last fall banned three chemicals commonly used to make bath salts: mephedrone, MDPV, and methylone. Possession or sale of these synthetic stimulants could result in federal drug charges.

In addition, at least 38 states have enacted bath-salt bans that cover other chemicals as well, Reuters reported.

Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff’s Office said he’s only aware of one case that his department has dealt with.

Levon Rooney, a 28-year-old Camano Island resident, attacked his mother last December while he was delusional from snorting bath salts.

In a completely unprovoked assault, Rooney hit her in the back of the neck with a large flashlight. After telling her he was sorry that he had to kill her, Rooney choked his mother until she lost consciousness. She woke up feeling disoriented. When Rooney saw her moving again, he told her, “Mom I’m sorry you’ve got to die. I’ve got to kill you,” according to a deputy’s report on the incident. Rooney tried to choke his mother again, but she kneed him and ran for help.

Rooney was arrested and charged in Island County Superior Court with attempted murder.

In letters to the court, Rooney’s family members describe him as a gentle, non-violent man who loved his mother deeply, but had a nearly lifelong problem with substance abuse. He was never threatening or dangerous until he started using bath salts last summer and ended up in a psychiatric unit of a hospital.

“He was devoid of all normal character and personality, and was completely consumed by fear of attack by various malevolent forces,” his brother wrote in a letter to the court.

Rooney’s father explained in a letter how his son had helped save his mother’s life when he was younger. After his parents got divorced, Rooney and a brother lived with their mother when she moved in with an alcoholic, erratic Camano Island man. The situation was so bad that his brother left to live with his dad, but Rooney was too worried about his mother to leave.

He eventually convinced her to leave with him. A few days later, the man got drunk and set the house ablaze with himself and the animals inside.

Rooney’s family believes that Rooney was in the midst of a bath-salt-induced delusion when he attacked his mother and thought he was saving her from a fate worse than death. His mother and entire family were adamantly opposed to the attempted murder charge or a long prison sentence.

“My feelings of grief and anger over what he has done are deeper than anything I have ever felt,” his brother wrote. “However, through this profound pain and sadness, I have never for a moment felt that my brother is a bad person or an evil person. He is a deeply troubled person. He needs help.”

Rooney pleaded guilty in Island County Superior Court May 9 to three counts of assault in the second degree. Judge Alan Hancock agreed with the sentence recommendation and sent him to prison for a year and eight months.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Eric Ohme said Rooney’s support from his family was a major factor in the plea bargain.

“He plead to everything that would have made sense to charge him with if he hadn’t said he was going to kill her,” Ohme said.


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