Bad trip

As anguished Plano watched heroin pick off its children one by one, a cry went up for police to do anything to stop the deadly plague. Months later, some parents say they went too far.

Practicing a bit of tough love, George Malina refused to bail his son out for several days. When Milan did get out, his father insisted he come home and get clean. Milan moved in with his big brother David, who was helping his parents keep an eye on his younger brother. George Malina sent his son to a private drug counselor and made him submit to a weekly urine screen.

"The next few months we had with him, when I look back, they were like a gift from God," Malina recalls. Milan was off the drugs. He began to gain weight, to work out again, to think about the future. He enrolled in a community college, determined to study art. They thought he had turned the corner.

"We didn't understand about relapse," he says.
On a Sunday morning five days after his 20th birthday, Milan's family gathered for church. "David came in by himself," Malina recalls. "I asked him, 'Where's Milan? And he said, 'Milan didn't come home last night.'"

After church, George and Joanne went shopping. When they got home at about 2 p.m., a message was waiting from David.

"He said 'Beep me,'" George recalls. "So I did. He said, 'Dad, you need to come to the hospital.' I said, 'How come?' He said, 'You just need to come.' I said, 'Tell me.' And he said, 'Milan's dead.'"

"I've known Milan since the ninth grade," says Chris Cooper. "We had a mutual friend. It really was sort of a drug friendship. Our mutual friend was the one who got Milan doing cocaine."

Cooper is speaking from the Grayson County jail, where he and most of the other 29 federal defendants are doing time as they await sentencing. It's easy to see why teachers, school administrators, parole officers, and rehab directors alike describe him--a handsome 20-year-old, personable and funny, with coffee-and-cream skin and soft brown eyes--as a "born leader."

He looks out of place in this setting, a depressing, squat building of cement and cinder blocks covered by peeling paint. The jail lacks the most rudimentary comforts; the exercise area is a 10-by-10 room with a hole in the ceiling, and inmates are not allowed to receive books. It's a tough life for a 20-year-old who attended good schools (Highland Park, Plano), plays violin, and pines for Italian language tapes (also not allowed). A natural storyteller, Cooper writes poetry and prose; he hopes someday to work in a creative field, maybe journalism, maybe film, maybe advertising. On a recent April morning he regaled visitors with tales of jailhouse life, wearing a gee-whiz, slightly startled look, like an amateur anthropologist suddenly transported to Samoa. Certainly he is no saint. He was once suspended for a high school prank. By the time he was a junior, he was failing in school, mostly because of absences caused by drugs. He dropped out and was arrested for marijuana possession.

Unlike many present the night Malina died, he's happy to talk about it all: Malina's death, heroin, his role, his addiction. Though they ran in different circles, the pair crossed paths at weekend parties, which is how they hooked up the night Malina died. That evening's big bash was held at the home of a newly minted Plano Senior High grad, and police reports state that the entertainment, for 60 or more underage visitors, included "a large amount of alcoholic beverages," marijuana, Xanax, and Valium--the latter two available for purchase from a fellow partygoer for $3 a pill. (The host told police his mother was present the entire night, in her bedroom.)

Bryan Embry, one of the two kids who were with Malina when he died, told police that drugs were more readily available at these weekly Plano parties than at college. The party host, in turn, told police that Milan and some others were "haranguing" Chris Cooper to get them chiva, a blend of heroin and antihistamines that is snorted or injected. Rocky Battista said he overheard Cooper saying he was "out of it and had none on his person, but he would make some phone calls and try to hook some deals up."

Eventually, the party shut down, and Cooper drifted over to Battista's, where Milan and another addict were. At that point, Cooper says, he agreed to take them to his supplier, a Plano grad in his mid-20s who dealt to support his own addiction. Police reports say that the other kid gave Cooper the money and that Cooper turned the heroin over to Malina and his friend. Cooper made nothing on the transaction and went home without sampling the drugs.

"I was trying to quit," he recalls. "And I knew if I went back [to Battista's], I'd end up doing it. We had a long talk about it, and Milan knew what I was trying to do. He said, 'I'm proud of you for trying to stay clean.'"

Milan and the other kid returned to Battista's, where they did some more chiva, then passed out. From there, the tale gets vague. The other kid, who told police he remembers little of that night, woke up at 7 a.m. and ran home. Battista and Embry said they tried to wake Milan several times that morning, and both apparently knew he was in trouble, since they took his pulse, attempted to administer his asthma medication, and even held a mirrored coaster to his nose and mouth to see whether he was breathing. (They got the idea, Embry told police, from watching Pulp Fiction.) They went back to bed, and when they finally awoke at 1 p.m., they "noticed a chunky yellow substance oozing out of the mouth of Milan," police reported. Noting that his "appendages were very cold," they rifled his pockets. The two told police that was when they discovered the chiva, which they flushed down the toilet before heading for the hospital.

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