Columbia County Squad Car tight crop

A Portage woman faces a first-degree reckless homicide charge in connection to a 2018 drug overdose death.

Vanessa Rae Burger, 29, also was charged with manufacturing and delivering heroin and two counts of bail jumping.

The reckless homicide charge on its own carries maximum punishments of $100,000 in legal fines and up to 40 years in prison.

Columbia County Sheriff Roger Brandner said Friday his office recently completed a months-long investigation into the September 2018 overdose death of a 48-year-old Portage woman.

The September 2018 incident was one of four overdose deaths in Columbia County in the span of a week, Brandner said.

According to a criminal complaint filed Friday morning, a Columbia County Sheriff’s detective responded Sept. 5 to an apartment building in Lewiston township and found the body of a woman identified only as “KDO.”

The detective also found a cellphone and a cigarette wrapper containing what he believed to be 0.186 grams of heroin.

A deputy arrived on scene and spoke to a neighbor. The woman told authorities she had visited the victim’s apartment around 8 p.m. Sept 4 because the woman’s grandson was worried his grandmother might be sick. The neighbor told authorities the victim was “breathing funny” when she came to check on her.

The neighbor asked the victim’s mother to call an ambulance, but the mother did not think it was necessary. The woman told detectives she had spoken to Burger around 8:38 p.m. on Sept. 4, and Burger allegedly said she brought KDO something to “help her.”

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Text messages on the victim’s phone indicated she had asked Burger to deliver drugs Sept. 4 and Burger agreed to do so, according to the criminal complaint.

Detectives spoke to Burger on Sept. 23 and told her text messages indicated she had supplied drugs to KDO.

Burger allegedly insisted KDO did not die of an overdose and told detectives that if KDO did not use heroin every day, she would get sick. She admitted to bringing heroin to the apartment after 5 p.m. on Sept. 4 and left it in KDO’s bathroom.

On Jan. 11, a pathologist reported to detectives that KDO likely died of intoxication from fentanyl, methamphetamine or heroin.

During an initial appearance in Columbia County Circuit Court on Friday, public defender Amanda Riek requested a $5,000 cash bond be set for Burger.

Riek said Burger was cooperative with law enforcement and is raising two children, ages 13 and 7.

Assistant District Attorney Crystal Long in turn requested a cash bond of $50,000 for Burger.

Judge Todd Hepler chose to set a $25,000 cash bond with standard conditions, citing missed court appearances by Burger as the reason why a cash bond was necessary.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14.

Follow Brad on Twitter @BradMikeAllen or call him at 608-745-3510.

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