ASHTABULA COUNTY, Ohio — Pictures are all James Rose has left of his daughter Nychole Rose. The pictures show a smiling, carefree woman.
“I look back on these pictures quite a bit,” said James.
There’s one picture that he really loves. It’s no different than the others, Nychole smiling for the camera, but James said the smile was genuine.
“She was real happy here. I like that one. When you go through these things with these people, sometimes they’re not in great shape,” he said.
Truth be told, Nychole’s life wasn’t always carefree or easy. The Ashtabula County woman struggled with a heroin addiction for years. James, a father and a protector at heart, felt like he couldn’t protect her from herself.
“The demons we’re in her, that was it,” said James. “I knew I was fighting a losing battle.”
In 2016, at just 28 years old, Nychole was found dead at a home in Conneaut of an apparent drug overdose.
James said it was an unimaginable blow at the time because Nychole was trying to turn her life around.
“I talked to her an hour before her death, just before her death, just like you and I are talking,” he said.
According to Conneaut police reports provided to the family in a public record’s request, Nychole was found dead at a friend’s home. She was alone, bent over a bucket and had marks on her chest and neck.
A toxicology report found heroin and meth in her system. The Ashtabula County Coroner ruled the cause of death an accidental overdose.
Nychole’s family and friends held a funeral and grieved their loss, but even two years later, her death wasn’t sitting right with James.
“This is an accidental overdose? Case closed?” he asked. “It’s just a father’s intuition.”
Ashtabula County only performs toxicology reports on presumed overdose deaths and does not conduct autopsies, but the protocol is different in neighboring counties like Cuyahoga and Summit. The coroner’s office conducts an autopsy on every presumed overdose death.
In 2019, Nychole’s parents exhumed her body and hired independent medical examiner Joe Mancuso to conduct an autopsy.
Mancuso said he did notice a laceration across her chest, but he couldn’t determine if it was caused by trauma due to the time that had passed since her death.
“No interpretation for it because she had been dead for so long and she wasn’t embalmed,” said Mancuso.
He suspects Nychole was given a high dose of drugs and then someone suffocated her, but he knows for certain that an autopsy should’ve been done in 2016 when she died.
“That’s when all of the questions should be answered, at the initial time of death,” he said.
James hired private investigator Rob Slattery. He reviewed the case file, including police reports and witness testimony. He also spoke to those who knew Nychole.
“There should’ve been an autopsy. We believe if they would’ve done that, they would’ve found that this was a homicide, ” said Slattery.
Slattery said things like no drug paraphernalia at the scene, the marks around her neck and chest and even witness testimony from police investigative file that stated the scene looked staged, should’ve triggered a closer look at her body.
Conneaut’s current police chief Michael Colby was also chief in 2016.
In an email, he said that the marks around Nychole’s neck and chest are from the position she was found in over the bucket. He said he would hate for anyone to think that police wrote her case off as another troubled opiate abuser and said his department would be happy to re-open the case if new evidence emerged but there hasn’t been any.
Slattery and James believe Nychole’s case was overlooked because she had a known drug problem.
“We are not here to judge her, we are here to judge what was done and what was owed to her and the family,” said Slattery. “You can’t just chalk everything up to it’s a druggie, don’t worry about it.”
All these years later, James isn’t confident he’ll ever really know what happened leading up to his daughter’s death, but hopes sharing her story will spark change in Ashtabula County.
“I’m not going to get closure,” he said. “But how many other Nychole’s are out there?”
News 5 has reached out multiple times to the Ashtabula County Coroner’s Office to inquire why autopsies are not performed on presumed overdose deaths in the county, but have yet to hear back.