FORT WORTH — No more daily texts and phone calls. No more FaceTime. Watching ESPN while waiting for a trainer doesn’t happen anymore and Debbie Hetman no longer faithfully attends Los Angeles Angels home games to watch her son Tyler Skaggs pitch.
“I miss him every day,” she said.
Skaggs, a popular pitcher for the Angels, died in a Dallas-area hotel room in 2019, two weeks short of his 28th birthday, because of a lethal mix of alcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone, witnesses from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office testified in a federal court in Fort Worth last week.
Skaggs had been in town for a road series against the Texas Rangers, and his death shook his family, and baseball, shining a light on an opioid crisis that was permeating all levels of American society, including professional sports.
“It was the worst day of my life,” Hetman said. “We flew to Texas that day to see Tyler and find out what the hell happened.”
An investigation eventually focused on Eric Kay, a communications director for the Angels, who is now standing trial. The prosecution said he had provided Skaggs with pills that might have been disguised to look like oxycodone but that were, in fact, fentanyl.
The prosecution called 20 witnesses in the first week of the trial, including Hetman, as Kay’s mother, Sandy, watched and waited for her son’s chance to defend himself.
Much of the testimony centered on text messages — along with the chain of custody for Skaggs’s phone — but Hetman also testified about her son’s relationship with opioids, which included a previous addiction to Percocet, another opioid. She said that she and her husband, Daniel Ramos, would not let Skaggs’s elbow surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, prescribe her son anything stronger than Tylenol 3 after Tommy John surgery.
“I knew he had issues and I didn’t want him to start up again,” Hetman said.
Before Skaggs’s death, Hetman said she was unaware that her son had relapsed.
Kay’s lawyer, Reagan Wynn, said his client was a fellow addict, suggesting in his opening statement that the pills that killed Skaggs might have come from Matt Harvey, a teammate of Skaggs’s, who was on the list of potential witnesses in the second week of the trial.
Kay’s defense also tried to establish that there was no way of knowing for sure that it was fentanyl that was the sole cause of Skaggs’s death.
Dr. Marc Krouse, a former Tarrant County medical examiner who conducted Skaggs’s autopsy, explained his report in which he determined that Skaggs had died accidentally from a “mix of ethanol, fentanyl and oxycodone intoxication with terminal aspiration of gastric contents.”
On cross-examination, Wynn asked Dr. Krouse if he could be certain that Skaggs would be alive if not for the fentanyl he had ingested. Dr. Krouse said that there was a “much greater probability” that Skaggs would not have died if not for the fentanyl, but that there was no way to be 100 percent sure.
The witness list for the second week of the trial includes several of Skaggs’s teammates, and it will resume on Monday with Kay facing charges of drug distribution and drug conspiracy. The charges could result in multiple 20-year prison sentences and a $1 million fine.