Mother, father of child who died of fentanyl overdose, sentenced
The mother and father of a child who died of a fentanyl overdose were sentenced in Carbon County court on Friday - both to jail terms, her in the county, him to state prison.
Gage Joshua Duch, 28, now of Summit Hill, and Britney G. Burke, 32, of Bath, Northampton County, appeared before President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II for sentencing on charges to two previously entered guilty pleas. Burke pleaded to one count of involuntary manslaughter, a felony 2, in the death of her 3-year-old son. Duch, 28, pleaded to one count of involuntary manslaughter, a felony 3. Both entered the pleas after reaching a plea bargain with the district attorney’s office.
Burke was sentenced to serve one day less one to one day less two years in the county prison followed by five years of probation. She won’t be serving any more time, however, as she was given credit for 371 days already served.
Duch was sentenced to serve one to three and a half years in a state correctional institution. He was given credit for 382 days already served. Although he has served his minimum, since it is a state sentence, he will be taken to a state prison for classification and the state parole board will decide when he is released on parole. He began the jail term immediately.
The two were among four charged in the death.
Rebecca Lynn Walck, 23, of Palmerton, previously pleaded to one count of recklessly endangering another person. The fourth suspect, Anthony Hannibal Pudvah, 31, of Nesquehoning, is currently serving a state prison term on drug-related charges.
The incident occurred on Feb. 11, 2020.
According to affidavits filed by state police, the family lived at 121 S. Allen St. in Nesquehoning at the time of the incident. Walck and Pudvah also lived in the apartment and provided child care to the child on the day of his death.
Troopers said Burke called 911 to report the child unresponsive just before 7 p.m. on Feb. 11. Nesquehoning police and EMS arrived and the child was transported to St. Luke’s Miners Campus in Coaldale, where he was pronounced dead after attempts to resuscitate him failed.
District Attorney Michael Greek requested the death investigation be handed over to state police.
During interviews, Burke and Duch lied to troopers about their drug use, and added that Walck and Pudvah visited the home to watch the child earlier that day, troopers said.
The pair also lied about Duch’s whereabouts at the time the child was found unresponsive. Duch, upon his request, was taken to Burke’s parents’ home and family members said the child had no known illness, injuries or diseases that could have accounted for his death.
A search warrant of the home was executed early Feb. 12 and drug paraphernalia for heroin and fentanyl use was found within items belonging to Walck and Pudvah.
Later that day, Duch and Burke called troopers and admitted that they lied about their drug habits, their association with Walck and Pudvah and their activities on the day their son died.
The couple again noted that the child was left with Walck and Pudvah for a few hours before his death, but Duch then admitted to cleaning the scene and throwing away drug paraphernalia prior to troopers executing the search warrant.
On Feb. 14, an autopsy of the child was conducted and the cause of death was determined to be fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl toxicity and was suspicious.
On March 12, Walck and Pudvah were taken into custody by the Attorney General’s Office on drug-related charges and then interviewed by state police regarding the child’s death.
Walck said Duch and Burke were her drivers for the last four to six months and paid her and Pudvah with drugs.
Walck also said the pair moved in with Duch and Burke a few days earlier.
She told police about the drug use in the home and confirmed watching the child the morning of his death, but said he appeared healthy when she was watching him.
She then went back into her room when Duch and Burke returned home. A few hours later she and Pudvah transported Duch to a few locations to obtain drugs and it was while they were in Hazleton that they received a text from Burke saying the child was dead.
Walck said that she and Pudvah didn’t come forward earlier about this because they knew there was a warrant out for Pudvah’s arrest and she had open cases for other criminal matters.
Pudvah was also interviewed and told the same story as Walck, also saying that he, Walck and Duch were in Hazleton when they received a text from Burke about the child’s death.
Defense attorney Brett J. Riegel said that his client did bring drugs home with her takes responsibility for it, but, he added, she was not solely alone in what happened.
Fighting back tears and at times not able to speak, Burke told the court, “I’ll never go back to that life.” She added, “I think about it every day.” She admitted a drug abuse problem but said she has been addressing it since the incident.
She said she has three other children with Duch. They were never married.
Nanovic said he was prepared to send Burke to a state prison, but after listening to the argument of counsel and the defendant decided on a county sentence.
In addition to the jail term Burke was ordered to get both drug and alcohol and mental health evaluations and follow any recommendation for treatment, zero tolerance for drug or alcohol use, supply a DNA sample, get her GED diploma, pay court costs of over $1,000 and pay a $50 per month supervision fee while on parole or probation.
Duch’s attorney, Michael P. Gough, said his client’s life has been greatly impacted by the death of his son. He said Duch made two mistakes, getting addicted to drugs and bringing drugs into his home.
Duch said he was trying to get away from the people who had influenced him in the drug culture. He has moved to Summit Hill and resides there with his girlfriend and her children. He said his relationship with Burke is over.
He also is getting counseling for his drug addiction.
Nanovic noted the defendant failed to show for several treatment sessions.
In addition to the prison term, Duch was ordered to supply a DNA sample, get drug and alcohol and mental evaluations, get his GED and pay court costs of over $1,000. He was immediately taken into custody.