‘I walked over there and touched his cheek, and he was cold. He was gone.’
A 22-year-old woman told jurors Wednesday that she knew 18-year-old Dakota Ellerbusch was overdosing, but she didn’t call for medical help because she was afraid of her then-boyfriend, who is on trial on charges of providing drugs that caused the teen’s death.
Emily Rensing took the stand and described her recollection of the events that led up to Ellerbusch’s death on New Year’s Day at a family-owned clubhouse in rural Washington County.
Her ex-boyfriend, 22-year-old Shane R. Lindsay, of Okawville, is accused of providing the fentanyl-laced drugs that led to the death of the Ashley teen.
Lindsay was charged in Washington County with drug-induced homicide in addition to obstruction of justice by destroying evidence, concealment of a death and unlawful delivery of a controlled substance.
Rensing described how the three of them went to Ellerbusch’s family cabin late on Dec. 30, 2016. There, she said, Ellerbusch poured a substance from a small container into some Sprite for the three of them to drink.
She took a few sips, and then they told her it was a drug called methadone, which lab reports reflect, according to prosecuting attorney Daniel Bronke.
“Dakota told me it would make me feel like smoking marijuana,” Rensing said. “It did not do that. It made me feel deathly sick.”
Rensing said she and Lindsay left the cabin the next morning after they couldn’t wake up Ellerbusch. Before they left, she said, Lindsay checked his pupils, and they reacted to light.
“Shane said (Ellerbusch) had to sleep off the drugs they did the night before,” Rensing testified.
They came back later that day, and Rensing, a certified nursing assistant, said the teen’s breathing was not normal.
She described how the teen was cold to the touch and had not moved since they left — other than his hand falling to the side of the couch. She said he had a dark, dried substance around his mouth.
“I told (Lindsay) something wasn’t right, and we needed to call the police or an ambulance,” Rensing told jurors. “Shane told me if he was in that position, he wouldn’t want the police called.”
The couple left, and Lindsay reportedly talked at some point afterward to Ellerbusch’s grandfather, John Ellerbusch, at his nearby home.
When asked why she didn’t summon help for Dakota Ellerbusch help, Rensing became quiet.
“It’s not that I was afraid of Shane ... but I was afraid of him — if that makes sense,” she said.
John Ellerbusch attended the trial. Outside the courthouse, he spoke about finding his grandson’s body in the cabin later that day.
“I saw him laying on the couch, all nice and covered up, and he had his pockets emptied out,” he said. “He was lying with his head propped up on the couch. I said, ‘Doggone it, son.’ I said, ‘Wake up. Everybody’s trying to get ahold of you ....’ And I walked over and touched his cheek, and he was cold. He was gone. That’s when I called 911.”
Rensing noted in her testimony she propped Dakota Ellerbusch’s head up with a pillow to help his breathing.
John Ellerbusch said it’s hard for him to believe that his grandson was a heroin user.
“He was not a heroin user. He didn’t even show any symptoms or signs of being associated with it. Two days before I found him in the cabin deceased, we spent the whole day splitting wood,” John Ellerbusch said. “He and I spent a lot of time hunting and fishing together in that cabin.”
The grandfather said he’s not sure how Dakota got to the cabin outside Okawville.
“He’s 5 miles from town, he had no driver’s license, he had no vehicle. The only possible way he could get there was to be taken down there,” John Ellerbusch said. “It’s a cold winter’s night. There’s no fire in the stove, no electric in the cabin. He wouldn’t have just gone down there and go by himself.”
Chemist Marla Spangler, of the Illinois State Police Crime Lab in Belleville, said she found several grams of methadone in a small plastic bottle and a Mountain Dew bottle that she examined.
Another substance tested positive for methamphetamine, Spangler said.
Dr. Sarah Riley, director of toxicology at Saint Louis University, took the stand to testify on the results of a toxicology report, but public defender Dennis Hatch objected to the evidence.
Hatch said Riley was testifying on evidence she never handled and that was not present in the courtroom. He said it is protocol for the prosecution to bring evidence in the courtroom in order for the report to be admitted as evidence.
Later, Bronke called Washington County Coroner Mark Styninger to testify on Dakota Ellerbusch’s toxicology report and cause of death.
However, after lengthy questioning by Hatch of Styninger outside of the jurors’ presence, the judge ruled that Bronke needed to establish the teen’s blood and urine samples were not tampered with from the time the coroner dropped them off at the hospital and they arrived at the Saint Louis University laboratory — referred to as the chain of custody in court.
The obstruction charge accuses Lindsay of giving false information to a Washington County detective “as to the true circumstances surrounding the death of Dakota Ellerbusch and his actions and involvement thereto.”
The concealment charge accuses Lindsay of “lying to and giving misdirection to John Ellerbusch as to the actual physical location of Dakota Ellerbusch,” for the purpose of “preventing or delaying the discovery of the death of Dakota Ellerbusch.”
If Lindsay is convicted, the drug-induced homicide charge carries a sentence of 15-30 years in prison.
Bronke planned to call up four more witnesses Thursday. Afterward, Hatch’s witnesses are scheduled to take the stand.