"...toxicology revealed a significant presence of methamphetamine..."
Though the cause and manner of death have been officially deemed “undetermined” by the Midwest Medical Examiner, 18-year-old Laura Ann Schwendemann of Starbuck likely died of methamphetamine ingestion, according to the autopsy report.
The man who was last seen with Schwendemann, 21-year-old Nickolas McArdell of Starbuck, will be charged with a gross misdemeanor for concealing the location of her body. Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson said
McArdell will not be prosecuted for causing Schwendemann's death because the evidence does not support it.
Schwendemann was last seen alive on Oct. 14 at a gas station in Alexandria by means of surveillance video. Her body was found by a farmer combining a cornfield in Orange Township in Douglas County on Oct. 26.
The autopsy report revealed that Schwendemann had not sustained any traumatic or abusive injuries prior to her death. However, toxicology revealed a significant presence of methamphetamine and THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in her system. Meth use is associated with sudden death, but because the circumstances surrounding her death are unknown, the Midwest Medical Examiner considers the cause and manner of Schwendemann's death as “undetermined.”
According to a news release from Larson and Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, when interviewed by investigators, McArdell initially stated that Schwendemann had gotten into a vehicle near Kensington with “a couple of guys” that McArdell did not recognize. Later, McArdell admitted that he had lied. He told investigators that he and Schwendemann had been driving around rural Douglas County on the evening of Oct 14, both injecting methamphetamine. He stated that he “blacked out” and could not remember what had happened.
After Schwendemann’s body was found on Oct. 26, McArdell requested to speak with investigators. According to the news release, he stated that Schwendemann had overdosed on meth while they were driving; he admitted to panicking and concealing her body in a cornfield.
“It is extremely unfortunate that Ms. Schwendemann's companion was either not aware of a recent law passed by the Minnesota legislature, or didn't care,” said Larson. “The ‘Good Samaritan’ law would have provided him immunity from prosecution for the methamphetamine that they had apparently possessed had he called 911 and reported the medical emergency in this case. He chose otherwise, and will be criminally prosecuted for that decision.”
A gross misdemeanor charge in Minnesota is punishable by up to one year in jail, a punishment Larson said is “woefully inadequate” in cases like this.
“It certainly appears that meth has dealt us another blow,” said Larson. “This case presents me with numerous questions which I direct to meth dealers and addicts alike: How many lives must be taken? How many parents must bury their children? How many kids must lose hope? How many souls must be rendered unfeeling and chasing only the next high? Have you no ability to value human life?”
Larson said he realizes that those questions will go unanswered by the intended audience. “These are the people who have lost hope in themselves and their future,” he said. “Perhaps, that is where we should start.”
Larson thanked the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Pope County Sheriff's Office, Starbuck Police Department, Alexandria Police Department, Glenwood Police Department, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota State Patrol, West Central Minnesota Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, FBI, Midwest Medical Examiner's Office, and all the volunteers and members of the public who assisted in the investigation.