Centreville Heroin Ring Member Is Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison

Skylar Schnippel, 20, shown in high school, said he was
Skylar Schnippel, 20, shown in high school, said he was "deeply sorry." (Images From Westfield High School Yearbook. - Images From Westfield High School Yearbook.)
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By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 25, 2009

As federal agents and Fairfax County police gathered in Alexandria last summer, they realized that they had to act quickly. Heroin use was surging in the Centreville area, and a 19-year-old woman recently had overdosed and died.

"We had a pandemic, a public health emergency of heroin use by young individuals," Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik R. Barnett told a judge Friday. "Young people were dying."

The meeting in the U.S. attorney's office triggered a sweeping investigation that culminated Friday with the sentencing of the final defendant in a Fairfax County heroin ring that led to the deaths of four young people.

Skylar Schnippel, 20, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for supplying the drugs that killed his girlfriend, 19-year-old Alicia Lannes, whose death brought in federal authorities. She overdosed on heroin in her parents' basement while talking to Schnippel by telephone and text message. He waited several hours to seek help, prosecutors said.

In all, 16 young people were charged with drug crimes in a ring that prosecutors said included dozens of heroin users, almost all of them onetime students at Westfield High School. All were convicted. Their sentences ranged from 30 days to 26 years in prison.

Schnippel was sentenced at a hearing in U.S. District Court that seemed more like a funeral, an occasion to mourn the deadly effects of drugs and the loss of two young lives, one to prison and the other to a grave.

Donna Lannes, Alicia's mother, called Schnippel "a coward, a liar, indifferent and thoughtless." Her voice shaking, she told the court that Schnippel "was not fit for society" and called for "the maximum punishment this court can impose."

Her husband, Greg Lannes, said his daughter had "an infectious personality" that Schnippel had quelled by giving her the drugs that ultimately led to her death. Turning to face the defendant, he said: "Skylar, take responsibility for your actions and start a new life today. . . . When you are released back into society, we hope you become a productive and caring person.

"May God watch over you and guide you."

Schnippel, wearing a green prison jumpsuit, stared straight ahead and did not look at the Lannes family. Almost 20 young people packed the courtroom, many of them family members and friends of Schnippel's. They looked down or cried softly.

In a brief statement, Schnippel apologized "for the pain I have caused" and said he was "deeply sorry for the Lannes's loss." Judge Leonie M. Brinkema then imposed the sentence, saying Schnippel's actions had been "unconscionable." Schnippel's family members declined to comment.

Schnippel, of Centreville, was convicted in May of conspiracy and possessing and distributing the heroin that led to Lannes's March 2008 death. He was the only defendant who went to trial; the rest pleaded guilty.

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