Fatal overdose to put friend away 20 years

Found guilty of providing a lethal cocktail of drugs, the ex-nightclub host expresses regret.

By KEVIN GRAHAM, Times Staff Writer
Published October 18, 2007

TAMPA - Each day of his trial last July, where he stood accused of giving a fatal overdose of drugs to a friend, Brandon Erwin apologized to his mother.

He told her he was ashamed of the things she would hear about his days as a host at the Blue Martini nightclub. The foul language he used. The drugs he dealt. He assured her that part of his life was over.

And on Wednesday, three months after a jury found him guilty, he told the federal judge who would sentence him that he was a changed man.

"I sat here ashamed of the person I was," Erwin, 30, told U.S. District Judge James S. Moody. "The fast life I was living was one that searched for worldly acceptance and zero positive gain."

Moody then sentenced Erwin to 20 years in prison, the minimum mandatory sentence.

The jury had found Erwin guilty of four counts of distributing controlled substances and one count of conspiracy to distribute. Moody sentenced Erwin to 20 years on each count but ordered that he serve the terms at the same time.

Andrew Culver died in November 2005 from an overdose of cocaine and the prescription painkiller methadone prosecutors said Erwin gave him. Culver's body was found in a room at the Renaissance Tampa Hotel International Plaza, near the Blue Martini.

Celeste Rogers, Culver's mother, flew from Dallas to attend the sentencing. She told the judge about her son's caring spirit in life, because she said too much of the trial focused on how he died. And she turned to Erwin several times to address him directly.

"Brandon, he considered you one of his best friends," she said. "You may think your life is over, but it's not. You can still plan for your future. My son's life is over."

Rogers said she talked with Culver the day he died, and he told her he had an appointment scheduled to meet with a drug counselor for his cocaine habit.

"He was finally admitting he needed help," she said. "He did have an addiction to cocaine. But the methadone, that was you, Brandon. And that's what killed him."

Culver's widow, Christina Culver, also spoke. Their son was 2 and their daughter 6 weeks old when their father died. Her son still has trouble understanding why he can't see his dad anymore, she said.

Erwin's family and friends also packed the sentencing, sitting shoulder to shoulder behind him in court.

His pastor talked about the genuine remorse he has seen in Erwin. His sister talked about his financial support when their father left them. Another sister talked of the conversations about God she now has with Erwin and the Bible studies he gives to other jail inmates.

They said they had forgiven him for his mistakes.

"I worry about the years ahead," said Kimberly Leonard, Erwin's mother. "But I'll be there on the day of his release if I can."

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or 813 226-3433.