Sun, Oct 01, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Husband arrested for possible role in poisoning death of Nevada controller

SUSPICIOUS Chaz Higgs told authorities his wife died of a massive heart attack, but she had no history of heart disease and an autopsy revealed a strong paralytic drug

AP , RENO, NEVADA

Dallas Augustine, daughter of late Nevada state controller Kathy Augustine, speaks to the media outside her home in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Friday. Augustine spoke following the arrest of her late mother's husband, Chaz Higgs, on charges he administered a paralyzing drug to kill Kathy Augustine.

PHOTO: AP

The husband of Nevada's late state controller Kathy Augustine was arrested on Friday and charged with murdering her after an FBI toxicology test found a paralyzing drug in her system.

A warrant charging Chaz Higgs with first-degree murder was issued this week in Reno after a coroner's autopsy and results of toxicology tests found succinylcholine in Augustine's system.

Police described the drug as a powerful paralytic. The warrant and test results had been kept secret until Higgs' arrest.

Higgs, 42, was arrested in Hampton, Virginia, where he had apparently driven to visit his father and stepmother, Reno police said.

Augustine, 50, died in a Reno hospital July 11, three days after Higgs, a critical care nurse at another hospital, said he found her unconscious in her Reno home.

Higgs told reporters his wife died of a massive heart attack. But police said Augustine had no history of heart problems and that the autopsy did not suggest she had heart disease.

Suicide attempt

Three days after her death, Higgs tried to commit suicide. He was released from a hospital later that day, and did not attend his wife's funeral the following day.

Investigators said medical experts told them that the drug found in Augustine's system paralyzes muscles within several minutes, including those used for breathing.

The drug is used in hospital operating rooms, emergency rooms and intensive care units to help put in breathing tubes, they said.

Reno homicide investigators went to the hospital where Augustine was admitted after receiving an anonymous telephone tip that her death might not be accidental.

Higgs has vehemently denied having anything to do with his wife's death. The night before attempting suicide, he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he welcomed the police investigation.

"My wife was a healthy 50-year-old woman who dropped dead. I want to find out what happened," he said. "People don't know what went on in our home. She was frazzled and stressed out."

Higgs had been the nurse for Augustine's previous husband, Charles Augustine, who died three years ago in Las Vegas. His death certificate says he died of complications from a stroke.

Three weeks after her husband's death, Kathy Augustine married Higgs in Hawaii.

Greg Augustine, Kathy Augustine's adult stepson, has said he wants his father's remains exhumed and an autopsy conducted if the FBI determines Kathy Augustine did not die of natural causes.

Elected

Augustine was first elected in 1992 as a Republican member of the state assembly. She became Nevada's controller, the state's chief fiscal administrator, in 1999.

She was impeached by the assembly and convicted for using state equipment on her 2002 campaign and was censured but not removed from office. Political leaders including Republican Governor Kenny Guinn called for her to step down, but she refused.

She was running for state treasurer when she died. Elections officials did not have time to remove her name from the primary ballot last month, creating a potentially embarrassing situation for the state.

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