Rodricks: Bill Dolan, blamed for his brother's overdose, dies of one

Rodricks: Bill Dolan, blamed for his brother's overdose, dies of one
Bill Dolan, who would have turned 30 on June 20, had been out on bail in May when he reportedly died from a drug overdose. (Facebook photo)

You could dismiss it as the voice of grief, but there’s plausibility in what Bill Dolan’s mother says — that the decision by Pennsylvania police and prosecutors to charge him with contributing to his brother’s death contributed to his own.

“My son did nothing wrong,” Melina Zissimos-Leyrer wrote in a text message this week. “And for them to incarcerate him made him worse. They need to help people with mental illness. ...”


I first wrote about Bill Dolan in March, just after police in York County arrested him in connection with the overdose death of his younger brother, Joseph Dolan.

Bill, who lived on Druid Park Drive in Baltimore at the time, told police he had purchased heroin from a dealer in the Woodberry neighborhood on a weekday in late June 2017. Bill shared some of the heroin with Joseph, who had just turned 19.

Joseph drove back to his home in Dover Township, Pa. He sat in his car and used the heroin. The heroin killed him. It turned out to have been laced with carfentanil, the large-animal tranquilizer that is far more potent than fentanyl, the more common opioid responsible for thousands of overdose deaths in recent years. Carfentanil can be lethal to humans at just two milligrams. The Drug Enforcement Administration had warned that the dangerous drug was on the streets in the spring of 2017.

Bill Dolan cooperated with the investigation of Joseph Dolan’s death. A detective from the Northern York County Regional Police Department interviewed him and, according to the detective’s affidavit of probable cause, Bill provided details of the heroin purchase.

Based on that, police charged Bill with “drug delivery resulting in death,” a felony that carries a penalty of 20 to 40 years in prison. Pennsylvania law allows the prosecution of anyone who “intentionally administers, dispenses, delivers, gives, prescribes, sells or distributes any controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance” that causes death.

The interval between Joseph Dolan’s fatal overdose and Bill Dolan’s arrest was 20 months. Police in York County never provided an explanation for that, and they did not answer my questions about the case when I contacted them in March.

Bill’s mother said then, and insists now, that her son suffered from mental illness and drug addiction. Being accused and jailed in Joseph’s death exacerbated his condition, she says.

In May, just 10 days after he was released on bail, Bill Dolan died. His memorial service was in Baltimore on June 1. The Maryland medical examiner has not yet determined the cause of Bill’s death. A report this week in the York Dispatch says officials with the NYCRPD were told he had died of a drug overdose. His mother says Bill died from an overdose of an antipsychotic medication he had been taking for his disorder.

In a photo posted after his death, Bill Dolan is seen flying high above a trampoline, with the comment: "He knew how to make us laugh that's for sure."
In a photo posted after his death, Bill Dolan is seen flying high above a trampoline, with the comment: "He knew how to make us laugh that's for sure." (Facebook)

Immediately after Bill’s death, his Facebook page, in which he described himself as “working at loving life,” filled with posts and photographs from friends and relatives that suggested a gregarious, fun-loving and energetic young man.

“Billy was the most talented person I’ve met,” his mother says. “He taught himself to play guitar, and any instrument at that. He impressed people everywhere he went. He was so smart. I just wish treatment for mental illness would change and they would receive good care.

“And I also wanted to state that [Joseph’s death] was not Billy’s fault. Grown people make their own conscious decision to take a drug. No other person should be blamed.”

Except maybe the drug dealer.

Billy gave the dealer’s nickname to police during his interview two years ago, and he described the dealer’s car. But no additional arrests have been made in the case.

Today would have been Bill Dolan’s 30th birthday.


“I can't express how heartbroken I am — and my husband, daughter, father and my mother are — over Billy's passing,” his mother posted on Facebook. “It was way too soon. That's why I hope they change care for people with mental illness. Billy brought so much love and laughs, and he was my son and best friend.”