Heroin Be the Death of Me

South Beach nightlife sophisticates know they can handle it. A little puff now and then won't kill you. No big deal.

David begins to fret. Without the money, he'll have difficulty leaving Miami. Yet he's certain that the longer he stays, the more drugs he'll use and the more difficult it will be to get clean. "I'm at the point where I just built a new business, and I can't walk away from it right now," he says. "I have investors waiting for results, and there's money that needs to come in every week. So I really have to keep destroying myself every day, and every day I know it's going to be harder by the time I go to rehab."

But his drug use itself has also been hurting his business. His extended trips to the bathroom, where he struggles to shove cocaine up his damaged nose, have not gone unremarked. If he yields to fatigue in public, snoozing, for example, through mindless chatter in a nightclub VIP room, he's accused of nodding out on heroin. Most offensive, he says, are the frequently repeated stories that he's foisted heroin on young models, rumors he hotly denies. Enough people apparently believed them, however, to alert the Miami Beach police. This past November 20 David was arrested outside Amnesia, the massive nightclub in the South Pointe neighborhood.

Although the ostensible reason for the arrest was an outstanding warrant for driving with a suspended license, one of the police officers later testified he had received information that David was dealing heroin. According to the police report, David quickly incriminated himself by readily admitting he was a heroin addict and was carrying "a small amount" to stave off withdrawal.

David's own account of his arrest does not contradict the police report, though he adds some details. He was in a nearby parking lot, he says, when a police officer approached him and started asking how much money he was earning. Then the officer suddenly announced that David was going to jail, handcuffed him, and placed him in the back of a squad car. While David sat there, another officer, whom he describes as a friend, opened the door and urged him to hand over any drugs before he was booked. Believing that his friend wanted to do him a favor, David turned over a piece of aluminum foil he kept in his wallet. It was coated with traces of heroin.

"I told him, 'Listen, man, I've been addicted to this shit. I swear to God I'm trying to quit.' I thought this cop was going to throw it away for me," David recalls, shaking his head at his naivete. He was promptly charged with possession of heroin. Eventually he pleaded guilty to avoid extended probation, which would have restricted his freedom to travel outside Dade County. In return for his plea, a judge sentenced him to time served (the one day he spent in jail), and did not adjudicate him guilty, so his record is clean.

Almost immediately after his arrest, David entered the rehab program in Oklahoma, and within days of returning to Miami, he learned that another friend had died from an overdose.

In her last fashion show, held at Coconut Grove's Ensign Bitters, Anna Tchernycheva sashayed out on the nightclub floor wearing a lacy white teddy. Prancing between two male models, she added a bit of verve to what was really nothing more than a glorified nightclub act. That December 8 appearance would be the last for the 25-year-old Russian model.

According to friend Lucy Marchany, who also modeled that night, Anna complained of feeling sick after the show, but she insisted on going out anyway. Marchany says she begged off, and Anna left with two male friends. According to a medical examiner's report, sometime during the night she overdosed on opiates and cocaine.

A police investigation revealed that Anna had left Ensign Bitters with a man named Hector Ferrera. Several of Anna's friends say they do not believe she was dating Ferrera, who had been arrested in 1992 for selling cocaine. (He pleaded no contest and was ordered to serve six months probation.)

Around 8:00 p.m. the next night, Ferrera dialed 911 to report that Anna was lying unconscious in his house on NE 77th Street in Miami. The story Ferrera gave the police was succinct, even terse. He said they had gone out drinking after the fashion show and had returned to his place after dawn. They went to sleep, and when he awoke that evening, Anna did not appear to be breathing. She was pronounced dead at North Shore Medical Center. After a brief police investigation, her death was determined to be accidental and the case was closed. (Ferrera could not be reached for comment.)

"I want to find out what the hell happened that night," Marchany angrily says today. She and Anna's other friends say they knew she had been unhappy with her career and that she had admitted snorting cocaine, but as far as they knew she was not using heroin. She had been part of the first group of Russian models to work in the United States following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But after an initial flurry of publicity, including appearances on several television talk shows, the gimmick grew old and the girls had a hard time finding jobs. Anna ended up marrying a photographer and moving to Miami, where she worked as a runway model. A year later her marriage broke up and she began to seek solace in South Beach nightlife.

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