Tragic pact: No charges in Red Roof Inn death, injury

Facing financial woes and criminal charges stemming from a month-earlier hotel stay, Laura A. Daly and David Highfield checked into the Red Roof Inn on University Avenue in mid-January. They would never check out. Six months later, after an investigation into the once-mysterious events that led to 46-year-old Daly's death and the hospitalization of the then 62-year-old Highfield, a chemical engineer who once sat on the board of the UVA Patent Foundation, Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman says no charges will be filed.

In a written statement, Chapman reveals that investigators concluded the couple had entered a suicide pact, and he offers, with permission of Daly's family, details of the investigation.

Chapman indicates that upon arrival to the hotel room in the University Corner district on January 23, emergency responders discovered Highfield unconscious and convulsing in pools of vomit. Daly, meanwhile, was face-down on the bed and already deceased.

Inside the room, investigators found a three-page note by Daly explicitly conveying a wish to die together and be together "hand in hand, in heaven."

A toxicology report revealed that Daly, whose last known address was The Haven day shelter, overdosed on a combination of alcohol, codeine, and doxylamine, the last one the active ingredient in night-time cough-and-cold medicines and over-the-counter sleep aids. According to Chapman, a single tablet of Unisom, a sleep aid, was found in the room.

Highfield was also found to have high levels of doxylamine in his blood, but according to a toxicologist consulted by the Commonwealth's Attorney, his involuntary vomiting– a "self-defense mechanism"– spared his life as it prevented him from absorbing a fatal quantity.


That he survived, however, didn't mean Highfield avoided serious physical repercussions. In March, Highfield's attorney, Will Hendricks, revealed that his client had suffered serious kidney damage and remained on dialysis two months after the overdose. Through Hendricks, Highfield expressed hope that his kidneys would recover and he described Daly, with whom he was in a "long-term, committed relationship," as "a beautiful person."


While Highfield's attorney declined to provide more information for this article, court records show both Highfield and Daly had been in difficult circumstances in the months leading up to their overdose. On December 15, both were arrested at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel on Branchlands Boulevard. Highfield was arrested and charged with defrauding a hotel; Daly was arrested a few minutes later and charged with obstructing justice.

Less than two weeks before her death, Daly was found guilty and fined $201. On February 16, less than a month after the overdose, Highfield pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge in Albemarle General District Court and was sentenced to 179 days, with all but time served suspended.

A legal analyst asserted that criminal charges can be filed against the survivor of a suicide pact– with offenses tracking the laws of homicide and ranging from aiding-and-abetting all the way up to murder.

Chapman's new statement addresses the issue, explaining that while suicide is considered a crime in Virginia, there is no prescribed punishment, leaving prosecutors to examine each case individually.

"Under the circumstances in this case," writes Chapman, "after consulting with the relatives of Ms. Daly and reviewing all of the evidence gathered during the course of the investigation... it was determined that no criminal charges related to the suicide of Ms. Daly or the attempted suicide of Mr. Highfield are recommended."

Freed from the threat of prosecution, Highfield declines comment, but a statement given through his attorney back in March suggests that his suffering over what happened to Daly in the Red Roof Inn continues.

"I grieve her loss," said Highfill, "and miss her every day."

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JeeZ what a sad story. Money may not buy happiness but just about everything else can be purchased. I think you meant to say tablet of unisom instead of table.

Go figure, the homeless woman succeeds in killing herself with chemicals whilst the chemical engineering whiz fails. That degree didn't do you much good, eh Mr. Highfield?

R.I.P.: Ernest Borgnine

Why did Dave Chapman need permission from the family to release the details on Daly's death? Once you are dead you have no right to privacy.

Not so, Doyle, The deceased person has a legal right to privacy that does not end when the person dies. Representatives of the deceased person's family and estate would have a cause of legal action if that right were violated.

And who is paying for his medical care and transportation and living space since
it appears he does not have any money?

You sure about that Wog? Then how come when a celebrity like Whitney Houston or Anna Nicole dies we know all about the drugs she used and how she died? Don't you think the family would keep that quiet?

Doyle - Sure? Well, not absolutely, but I think becauseWhitney Houston is/was a public figure, the privacy/confidentiality rules are different. Just like if someone followed you around and took pictures of you in your back yard and on vacation, you could probably go after them for stalking or invasion of privacy, but paparazzi (sp?) do this all the time with celebrities.