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Tyler Skaggs’ family sues Angels over pitcher’s death

Tyler Skaggs, in Angels uniform, walks off the field.
Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs leaves the field during a pitching change against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 18, 2019, in Toronto.
(Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images)

The family of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs has sued the team and two former employees after his overdose death almost two years ago, alleging that an Angels employee supplied drugs to multiple players.

One lawsuit was filed Tuesday morning in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of Skaggs’ widow, Carli, while his parents, Darrell and Debbie, sued in Tarrant County (Texas) District Court.

The complaints, which name former communications director Eric Kay and longtime vice president of communications Tim Mead as defendants in addition to the Angels, accuse the team of wrongful death and negligence. The lawsuits allege Kay “had a long history of drug abuse” and provided drugs to “at least five” Angels players other than Skaggs.

“The Angels owed Tyler Skaggs a duty to provide a safe place to work and play baseball,” the lawsuit filed in L.A. said. “The Angels breached their duty when they allowed Kay, a drug addict, complete access to Tyler. The Angels also breached their duty when they allowed Kay to provide Tyler with dangerous illegal drugs. The Angels should have known Kay was dealing drugs to players. Tyler died as a result of the Angels’ breach of their duties.”

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The family doesn’t seek a specific amount of damages in the complaints.

“The lawsuits are entirely without merit and the allegations are baseless and irresponsible,” the Angels said in a statement. “The Angels Organization strongly disagrees with the claims made by the Skaggs family and we will vigorously defend these lawsuits in court.”

In a separate statement, Mead’s attorney, Eric Vandevelde, said his client “was not aware, informed or had any knowledge whatsoever that Tyler may have used opioids or that Eric Kay or any Angels employee had ever provided opioids to any player. Any statement to the contrary is reckless and false.”

Skaggs was found dead in a hotel room in Southlake, Texas, on July 1, 2019, before the Angels opened a series against the Texas Rangers. The Tarrant County medical examiner ruled in an autopsy report that the 27-year-old’s death was an accident after “mixed ethanol, fentanyl and oxycodone intoxication” led him to choke on his vomit.

An investigation by Southlake police and the Drug Enforcement Administration resulted in Kay’s arrest in August. He is charged in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth with providing counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl to Skaggs that resulted in his death and conspiring to “possess with the intent to distribute” a substance containing fentanyl since at least 2017.

Kay, who pleaded not guilty, is scheduled for trial in mid-August. He is the only person known to have been charged in connection with the death.

The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Kay by DEA special agent Geoffrey Lindenberg alleged that “but for the fentanyl in [Skaggs’] system, [Skaggs] would not have died” and that Kay and Skaggs “had a history of narcotic transactions, including several exchanges wherein Kay acquired oxycodone pills for [Skaggs] and others from Kay’s source(s) and distributed these pills to [Skaggs] and others.”

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Eric Kay, the Angels’ former communications director, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges in Tyler Skaggs’ death.

“I also learned that Kay would distribute these pills to [Skaggs] and others in their place of employment and while they were working,” Lindenberg wrote.

The Angels hired former federal prosecutor Ariel Neuman to conduct an internal investigation of the circumstances surrounding Skaggs’ death and have repeatedly denied that anyone in the team’s management knew about “any employee providing opioids to any player.”

In October 2019, Kay’s Newport Beach-based attorney, Michael Molfetta, called attempts to blame Kay for the death “shortsighted and misguided.”

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“When all the facts come out,” Molfetta said, “I think what happened is a tragedy. ... But to say it’s any one person’s fault is not right.”

Around the same time, Mead told The Times that Kay never mentioned to him that Skaggs might be using opioids.

“Eric and I conversed about a lot of things over the years,” Mead said. “Tyler and opioids were not one of them.”

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Kay’s employment with the Angels ended in November 2019, according to his LinkedIn page.

“The Angels did not fire Kay, did not remove Kay from the clubhouse, and did not properly restrict Kay’s access to players such as Tyler,” the lawsuit filed in L.A. said. “The Angels likewise failed to stop Tyler’s drug use when they knew or should have known about it.”

After Skaggs starred for Santa Monica High School, the Angels drafted him in the first round in 2009. He took a winding path to the major leagues — including a 19-month recovery from surgery on his pitching elbow — before becoming a key member of the team’s starting rotation.

The lawsuits allege the Angels had a “toxic environment that pressured players to play through the pain” and that players who missed games because of injuries were “ridiculed.”

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“Tyler quickly realized that he was expected to pitch even when he was hurt,” the complaint said.

Mead worked for the Angels for 40 years before taking over as president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., in June 2019. He announced in April he was stepping down from the position, citing family responsibilities.

The lawsuits accuse Mead of being “negligent in numerous ways,” among them having “a duty to stop Kay’s interaction with players once he learned or should have learned that Kay was providing dangerous illegal drugs to players, including Tyler.” Kay was in rehab “multiple times while employed by the Angels,” the lawsuits said, and was hospitalized in 2019 “because he overdosed on illegal drugs.”

Rusty Hardin, the Houston-based attorney for the Skaggs family, said in a statement that the decision to file the lawsuits was “very difficult.”

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“But they want to get to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding Tyler’s tragic, untimely and completely avoidable death, and to hold the individuals and entities — including the Angels — accountable for the actions that contributed to it,” Hardin said. “As the federal grand jury indictment made plainly and painfully clear, were it not for the fentanyl in the counterfeit pill provided by Angels employee Eric Kay, Tyler would be alive today.”


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