Fort Lewis soldier charged in teen's death
David Edwards and Joe Byrne
Published: Wednesday March 11, 2009

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A soldier at Puget Sound's Fort Lewis faces charges of involuntary manslaughter after the death of 16-year-old Leah King.

Private Timothy E. Bennitt, fresh from training in Oklahoma and Missouri, had only been at Fort Lewis for 3 months before the incident. He had never been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan; on the fort, he was a heavy construction equipment operator for the 555th Engineer Brigade. He sold prescription painkillers and marijuana to his fellow soldiers. Originally from Rolling Prairie, Indiana, the soldier had met Leah King a few weeks after being stationed at Fort Lewis, and had been dating her for about a month at the time of her death.

Three weeks ago, Private Timothy Bennitt drove Leah King and one of her friends onto Fort Lewis, and from there they went up to his room in the barracks. Bennitt crushed up the painkiller oxymorphone and the anti-anxiety medication alprazolam (Xanax), mixed them together, and gave the powder to the two younger girls for them to snort through a rolled-up dollar bill. Around 3:30 am, medics found both girls unconscious in the barracks. Leah King was dead, and her friend was rushed to Madigan Army Medical Center. She was discharged a few days later.

It was revealed to investigators after the incident that Bennitt had been selling drugs to other soldiers at Fort Lewis. In addition to involuntary manslaughter, Bennitt also faces charges of wrongful distribution and use of controlled substances. If convicted, Private Bennitt could spend 82 years in a military prison.

Leah King, of Lakewood, Washington, “just wanted to fit in,” her grandmother told reporters. According to a military charge sheet released by Fort Lewis, King "had a propensity to abuse controlled substances."

As a result of the teenager's overdose death, the military is enhancing visitor security at Fort Lewis. All minors are to sign in at the visitor center and staff may bar access to guests whose purposes on the base are not “legitimate,” according to the KOMO report.

This video is from KOMO, broadcast Mar. 10, 2009.

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