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Mom of overdose victim points to alleged drug dealer in court

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Luke Ronnei
Luke Ronnei, 20, who died in January from a heroin overdose.
Photo courtesy of Colleen Ronnei

Luke Ronnei returned from a trip to Australia on Jan. 6, 2016, just in time for his dad's birthday. His family planned a double celebration. But Ronnei had other plans.

One of his childhood friends, William Cole, 20, testified in Hennepin County court Tuesday that Ronnei texted him and asked him to set up a drug deal. Cole, in treatment for the fourth time trying to kick his habit, said Ronnei wanted to buy $160 worth of heroin. And for giving him a ride, Ronnei would give Cole some of the drugs.

Cole and Ronnei drove to a restaurant parking lot in Minneapolis to meet the woman they knew as Ice. When Cole spotted his dealer, he parked his pickup truck and made the transaction in the woman's car. 

"I got in the back seat," said Cole. "I gave her the money. She gave me the drugs."

Beverly Burrell, 31, has pleaded not guilty to charges that she provided the heroin that killed Ronnei.

When Ronnei got home that night, his mother Colleen sensed something was wrong. "He was just, off," testified Colleen Ronnei. "I had a bad feeling."

Colleen Ronnei said she and her son started to argue. "He said, 'Mom, I'm OK. Let's not do this now'." 

After she found a syringe cap, Colleen Ronnei testified that she told her son they were going to test him for drugs in the morning. 

That didn't happen. 

The next morning, Colleen Ronnei and her husband found their son unconscious. While her husband performed CPR, she called for help. 

A Carver County sheriff's deputy testified that Luke Ronnei received a dose of Narcan, the name brand of the drug used to revive people overdosing on opioids. 

But it didn't work.

At one point during her testimony, Colleen Ronnei was asked to identify the woman who had been selling drugs to her son. She pointed to Burrell, who was sitting in the courtroom, wearing a blue button-down blouse under a sweater vest. 

Colleen Ronnei said she'd confronted Burrell once after she followed her son. She said she threatened to ram Burrell's car if she sold drugs to her son again.

Testimony in the case of another man — Max Tillett, who also died of an overdose of heroin he allegedly purchased from Burrell — is scheduled to begin immediately after the Ronnei testimony wraps up.