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Polk man dies of morphine overdose while celebrating his clean drug test

Michael Edwin Berg wanted to celebrate. He had passed his court-ordered drug test, deputies say, and it was time to party.

Berg, 23, and his friends partied through the night of Sept. 4 and into the next morning, drinking vodka and beer at various Mulberry houses and at a Plant City bar, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said.

Late in the evening they started sampling liquid morphine. Berg drank a shot glass full of the drug, witnesses told deputies. Thirteen hours later, friends found him dead.

The Medical Examiner's Office said the morphine killed him. On Wednesday, the Sheriff's Office arrested Berg's friend, Daniel Aleman, 23, charging him with third-degree murder in Berg's death.

Deputies said Aleman admitted giving Berg the morphine.

Berg and Aleman started drinking at Berg's house in Mulberry, the Sheriff's Office said.

Sheriff Grady Judd said the party was celebrating Berg's passing his court-ordered drug test — an arrest affidavit says Berg was known by authorities to abuse the drug Xanax.

His record shows he was familiar with the legal system. In 2007, he was sentenced to a year in prison for driving with a suspended license. He was found guilty of battery and criminal mischief in January 2009 and given six months of probation. In May, he was charged with driving under the influence.

After the September celebration got started, the friends left Berg's house and went to the Twilight Zone club on State Road 60 in Plant City. There, Aleman got a bottle of morphine from an unknown person, the Sheriff's Office said.

Later, they went to their friend Pick Sansom's house in Mulberry, where Aleman poured the morphine, the Sheriff's Office said. Aleman and another friend drank a little bit, deputies said. Witnesses told deputies that Berg poured about an ounce of morphine into a shot glass and drank it. It was about 3 a.m., and they quickly fell asleep, the Sheriff's Office said.

Berg woke up at about 11 a.m. and said "keep the kids quiet" because he was trying to sleep, deputies said. He fell back asleep. When Berg's friends tried to wake him up about 4:30 p.m., he was unresponsive.

When deputies and paramedics arrived, Berg was dead.

The Sheriff's Office and a poison expert were surprised that Berg lived for at least eight hours after taking a shot of morphine. Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Carrie Eleazer said it's possible that Berg may have awakened and drunk more of the morphine.

She said witnesses didn't see him drink more. It's difficult to know, because investigators don't have the bottle, she said. Aleman told deputies that he destroyed it in a fire, the Sheriff's Office said.

"What we do know is that there was an excessive amount in his blood and it was toxic," Eleazer said. "It was enough to kill him."

Toxicology tests recently returned to the Medical Examiner's Office also found traces of Xanax, a tranquilizer and relaxant, but not a significant amount, the Sheriff's Office said.

The autopsy found no trauma to his body, and investigators initially suspected no foul play. Blood and urine tests were ordered because of Berg's history of Xanax use and a court order that he not use drugs. When the toxicology results came back, detectives interviewed the witnesses again.

They arrested Aleman on charges of third-degree murder and delivery of morphine and booked him into the Polk County Jail.

"Our message from the Sheriff's Office is clear," said Sheriff Judd. "If you provide drugs to another and they die, we're going to come arrest you for murder."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

BY THE NUMBERS

Morphine-caused deaths reported between January and June 2009:

17 Hillsborough County

22 Pinellas and Pasco counties

2 Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties

Source: Florida Department of Law Enforcement

Polk man dies of morphine overdose while celebrating his clean drug test 03/17/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 18, 2010 12:28am]

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