The stench of death filled the $39-a-night suburban motel room.
Two young people, one slumped on top of the other in the bed, had fatally overdosed two days earlier on a mixture of heroin and fentanyl.
Lancaster police entered the room Jan. 26 after receiving a call from a worried relative. A needle was in Aaron Morgan’s right hand, and beneath Christine D. Guilfoyle was another needle. Fully clothed, they were face to face when death took them.
The next day, another man who had been in Guilfoyle’s life stood in a Niagara County courtroom. Daniel C. Gillick, an emergency room doctor, told the judge he had not written illegal prescriptions for highly addictive painkillers for a neighbor in Youngstown.
The doctor knew the drill. A month earlier, he had been sentenced for doing the same for Guilfoyle. Gillick ended up in a federal prison cell for violating probation and now is looking at additional time in state prison.
Gillick, a third-generation doctor, enjoyed a privileged life – a quaint home with a view of the Lower Niagara River, a boat and membership to a country club.
And Guilfoyle, 28, and Morgan, 23, weren’t always addicts.
Morgan, whose family moved to Lancaster from the Midwest, knew he had disappointed his parents and wanted desperately to regain his life before painkillers turned him into an adolescent addict.
And as a young girl growing up in Lancaster, Guilfoyle was the picture of innocence. She believed her parents’ home was on Sesame Street and that California was up in the clouds because people took airplanes to get there.
Heroin and other opiates have become one of the most widely abused drugs in Buffalo as well as in the country. The explosion of prescription painkiller abuse has led many addicts to seek the cheaper and stronger high of opiates. And with AIDS and HIV fading from the headlines, the act of injecting a needle doesn’t faze abusers. But opiates remain deadly drugs that obliterate lives. Already this year, 46 people have died from opiate overdoses in Erie County. Across the country, more than 100 die each day. But only when someone of stature, such as Academy Award-winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, succumbs is the alarm sounded.
This is the story of how three lives were ruined – two in death – as the national health crisis of opiates rages on.
Guilfoyle preferred to see the bright side of life. When she and her younger brother were growing up in a suburban neighborhood, they were inseparable. Their musically and mechanically inclined father taught her how to play the piano and drive dirt bikes and four-wheelers.
“My dad has always and will always be my hero until the end of time, even if he doesn’t know it,” she wrote in a journal.
She also remembered her mother’s home-cooked meals and the family time around the dinner table.
But before she was 10 years old, an event occurred that triggered the start of panic attacks that followed her through her short life.
“We didn’t have a bad childhood at all, just a very intense one. One day at the age of 9, my brother was 8, we came home from school to find the back door to our house unusually opened. And then life as I knew it would never be the same again.
“We walked in and the very first thing I noticed was the stove was gone. Then the fridge. Then the microwave, all the decorations. I think this was the first time I ever felt a full blown panic attack. I didn’t understand what was happening. Had we been robbed or something? All the furniture was gone except a couple pictures on the wall.”
Her parents had split up.
“My brother and I just sat on the floor since the furniture was gone and cried for two hours, until my dad came pulling in the driveway from work.”
Guilfoyle carried on, and her father marveled at the good grades she brought home from school “without even studying.”
But in the coming years, education took a back seat to her social life. By her second year at Lancaster High School, she had dropped out.
Guilfoyle was 14 years old when she first tried marijuana. She was arrested two years later at a Depew residence on pot charges, the first of 20 arrests. She entered a half dozen inpatient and outpatient drug treatment programs.
By the time she met Gillick in 2010, she was a hardened 24-year-old addict, willing to steal or do whatever it took to get her hands on crack cocaine and heroin.
At 64, Gillick was five years older than Guilfoyle’s father. He had been divorced three years earlier, was lonely and in search of a good time. An acquaintance slipped him Guilfoyle’s phone number with the promise that she fit the bill.
She objected to her phone number being passed around, but couldn’t resist what Gillick had to offer.
“The first time we hung out we got $300 in crack cocaine and got a room,” Guilfoyle wrote in her journal. “I started staying at the doctor’s. I started doing $200 in heroin and $100 in crack a day. I no longer had to go look for money for my habit. The doctor was a gold mine, so I cashed in on it. He was getting something from me and I was getting what I needed from him.”
Keeping a journal that detailed her life and where drugs had taken her was part of Guilfoyle’s treatment at an inpatient drug rehabilitation program in Sanborn months before she died last January.
Gillick, telling his side of the story in a tiny interview room at an Ohio prison, said he fell hard for the vivacious young woman with long brown hair and prominent brown eyes.
“I was her sugar daddy,” he said, “without the benefits.”
In opening his Youngstown home to her, he claimed their relationship was more an act of charity than anything else.
“She fought with her boyfriend and ended up on my doorstep,” said Gillick, a tall, lean man who seemed to be swallowed up in his ill-fitting yellow jail jumpsuit.
Guilfoyle bragged to her father that she was living with a friend whose father was a doctor.
“Christine told me the doctor’s name, and I looked him up online and confirmed that there was a doctor by that name,” said David Guilfoyle. “I figured what better place for her to be than in the home of a doctor.”
She later confided that the story was only half true, and when Guilfoyle brought the doctor to her father’s home in Lancaster, David Guilfoyle refused to meet him. Gillick was taking advantage of his daughter, who could not think straight because of her years of drug abuse, Guilfoyle said.
Partying and infidelities
Gillick worked at emergency rooms in Western New York and Central New York, and he said he felt entitled to relax when a day or two off in his work schedule presented itself.
But instead of sitting on the front porch of his one-story clapboard home, with its view of the Niagara River and Canadian shoreline, he and Guilfoyle often drove into Buffalo to find bars that specialized in rock ’n’ roll karaoke sing-alongs or nightspots that provided live music.
When they were at home, it was party central.
“All of her friends were drug addicts, and she really enjoyed it. I guess when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” the doctor said, his faded blue eyes coming to life. “I didn’t understand the depth of her problem.”
Gillick said he gave her thousands of dollars to seek treatment at a clinic that weans heroin addicts by prescribing Suboxone, but she spent it on heroin. And yet he continued to party with her and tolerate all sorts of indignities.
“She stole $200 from my wallet. She forged $600 in checks. She stole two large flat-screen TVs and pawned her computer two or three times for drugs. Each time I got it back for her,” Gillick said.
His neighbors verified seeing televisions and other possessions leaving the doctor’s home, and strangers coming and going from the house in the middle of the night, often when they knew Gillick was away at work. A neighbor said one of Guilfoyle’s friends tried to sell drugs to her teenagers.
Gillick claims he tried to break off the relationship.
“I’d tell her, ‘You’re done. Get out.’ She’d say, ‘I’ll leave if you give me $500.’ A couple times I did. That’s how desperate I was.”
Guilfoyle also blackmailed him, he said, recalling how she demanded money or she would report him for writing her an illegal prescription for Dilaudid, a narcotic painkiller, under a fake name when she accompanied him to his job in the emergency room at Schuyler Hospital in Montour Falls.
“She said, ‘I’ll call your boss and tell him you wrote me the prescription,’ ” Gillick said. “It was a nightmare.” Guilfoyle made good on her threats, but not according to the script she had envisioned.
She went to Buffalo on one of her drug runs the night of Oct. 30, 2012, in Gillick’s black Grand Cherokee. But after buying drugs, instead of driving some 30 miles back to Youngstown, she parked the vehicle on the 400 block of Ontario Street and indulged herself.
The final betrayal
A 911 call about a woman slumped behind the wheel of the vehicle summoned police to the scene. When they discovered the doors were locked, one of the officers smashed a rear passenger window to get to Guilfoyle. She was rushed to Erie County Medical Center while police searched the vehicle.
They found a drug store on wheels. A hypodermic needle, two packets of heroin, two crack cocaine pipes, two chunks of crack cocaine, a red straw containing white powder residue and numerous glassine drug packets with residue. But what really caught their attention were two blank prescription order forms stamped with the signature of Dr. Daniel Gillick. They also found two bottles of opiate painkillers Gillick had prescribed for Guilfoyle. And the Jeep was registered to the doctor.
The information was passed along to the Buffalo office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which began an investigation into the doctor. Federal agents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were concerned that he was treating patients in emergency rooms and had easy access to prescription drugs.
On Nov. 27, 2012, DEA agents observed Guilfoyle driving the same Grand Cherokee to Niagara Falls and buying drugs. She drove erratically for several blocks, blowing through red lights, going down a one-way street and speeding. Agents had more than enough to stop her and search the vehicle.
They found several chunks of crack cocaine, a crack pipe and other drugs. Guilfoyle told the agents that Gillick had given her the money to make the purchases.
When told she could face a lengthy prison term, she agreed to deliver the crack cocaine to Gillick, but unbeknownst to her, agents had replaced it with “sham crack cocaine.” At 9:35 that night, agents raided the house and discovered a home filled with pills, needles and crack pipes.
The court case
A day later, when Gillick was charged with misdemeanor possession of cocaine, he told agents that he was trying to place Guilfoyle into a drug rehabilitation program and that he used cocaine only occasionally.
“I only use the cocaine a couple times per month. I think Christine is using me for my money. I have only been using cocaine for approximately the past two years and I can control myself and am not addicted,” Gillick stated to agents.
He added that he sometimes prescribed controlled medications to a small private practice of approximately 10 patients, mostly friends and relatives, in the Youngstown area.
At his arraignment, he told the judge he made “good money,” $90 to $100 an hour, but that he had filed for bankruptcy and the home he was living in was owned by a bank that had foreclosed on him. When the judge agreed to release him on $5,000 bail with the understanding that he would have to be examined for drug addiction, possibly at Gillick’s own expense, the doctor objected.
“I think that you think I have money that’s growing on trees,” Gillick said, claiming he had only several thousand dollars at his disposal.
Guilfoyle, in her statement to DEA agents, said Gillick had called her back in 2010 because he was looking for sex and access to illegal drugs.
“We were mutually using each other,” Guilfoyle said.
She said that she got hooked on heroin after abusing pain medication prescribed to her for a back injury from a car accident years earlier.
At the same arraignment as Gillick, she took on a tone of desperation, begging the judge to place her in an inpatient drug treatment program as soon as possible because she was already suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
Gillick was sentenced last December to six months of home confinement and two years’ probation for health care fraud – billing the taxpayer funded Medicaid program – and illegally obtaining a controlled substance for Guilfoyle. He also surrendered his medical license.
Guilfoyle pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and was sentenced to one year of supervised release. She was placed in an inpatient drug rehabilitation program at Horizon Village in Sanborn early last year, where she met Aaron Morgan.
Gillick’s other troubles
But Gillick continued to have run-ins with the law.
On the night of Jan. 11 this year, he was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a 25-year-old Niagara Falls woman. Youngstown police stopped the vehicle for imprudent speed and failure to signal.
Gillick and the woman were charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, including a hypodermic needle.
“He went out to a movie with her. The police found she had drugs and a needle. The doctor denies they belonged to him,” said attorney Frank Bogulski, who was hired by Gillick’s relatives to represent him. “He’s an outstanding doctor who has saved many lives, and I would trust him with my life.”
Christine’s final weeks
David Guilfoyle says he received a card from Aaron Morgan last Christmas that gave him hope.
In it was a handwritten note from Morgan:
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Guilfoyle!
“I know it’s not much, but I hope you find the pajama pants comfortable. You’ve already blessed me with a gift that far surpasses anything I’ve ever had, and that’s Christine. I cannot thank you enough. I hope you have a very happy holiday and many, many more in the future.
“Sincerely, Aaron Morgan.”
The father believed his daughter had at last found someone who understood her, another addict in recovery, and that the chances of them living clean and sober were more than good.
But Guilfoyle failed to stay off drugs. And a judge, at one point, banned her from seeing Morgan. He, too, had multiple arrests involving drugs. Their relationship, however, continued.
“They were in love,” David Guilfoyle said.
Weeks later, on Friday, Jan. 24, they purchased drugs and checked into a bargain-priced Transit Road motel in Lancaster.
Kneeling on the bed, Guilfoyle plunged a needle into the crook of her right arm and fell over, her knees still bent up.
Morgan injected himself, and fell on top of her and their faces were inches apart. Police say the couple died instantly.
It turned out the heroin they had purchased was mostly fentanyl, a painkiller often prescribed to terminally ill patients. Their years of on-again, off-again battles with addiction were over. They were now statistics, among the estimated 105 people who die from drug overdoses each day in the United States, according to the federal government.
Lancaster police continue to investigate where Guilfoyle and Morgan got the drug, and their parents hope someday there will be an arrest.
“My husband calls the Lancaster police every Monday, and he says he will keep calling until he dies or there is an arrest,” said Mary Beth Morgan, Aaron’s mother.
On Jan. 27, the day after Guilfoyle and Morgan were found dead, the State Attorney General’s office charged Gillick with three felony counts stemming from a state investigation into Medicaid fraud, unrelated to the deaths.
He was accused of writing three Lortab prescriptions for a patient he had never examined. Gillick pleaded not guilty in Porter Town Court.
In February, federal officials revoked his probation because of the arrest in January with the Niagara Falls woman, and he was sent to Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, pending the resolution of the state and local charges, before the probation violation is settled.
In the interview room at the prison, Gillick said he did not blame Guilfoyle for cooperating with federal agents in 2012.
“She was afraid of going through withdrawal in jail. So she cooperated and lied about me. She said I gave her money for drugs,” he said.
David Guilfoyle says his daughter cooperated with the DEA because she faced the possibility of several years in prison. After years of trying to help his daughter become drug free, he is certain of one thing: “You can’t punish the addiction out of an addict.”
Gillick says he is eager to resume life as a free man, perhaps working in some form of medicine that does not require a doctor’s license.
A divorced father of two grown children, Gillick says he knows he has let down his family and sullied a reputation built up over three generations. His late father, Edward, and a paternal uncle were well-known doctors in Niagara Falls and the sons of a doctor who had served in the 1930s as the Niagara Falls health commissioner.
“I worked in emergency medicine for 35 years, and I’ve lost everything. Basically I hung around with the wrong people. I’m sorry for myself. I’ve ruined my life.”
And what about other lives?
“I don’t think I hurt anyone else,” he said.
Just recently, Gillick regained his freedom, at least temporarily. His defense attorney succeeded in arguing that he should be released on bail while awaiting trial on state charges alleging he wrote illegal painkiller prescriptions for his neighbor.