A.L. woman’s death ruled accidental

Published 8:17 pm Sunday, March 20, 2011

Albert Lea police on Friday announced they have closed the investigation into the death of 34-year-old Heather Michael Qualley, who was found dead in her home in February.

After receiving results of her autopsy, they are calling her death accidental.

Freeborn County Medical Examiner Lindsey Thomas said Qualley died from an accidental overdose, specifically called fentanyl toxicity. Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate, similar to but more potent than morphine, which is historically used to treat chronic pain.

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Fentanyl is typically found under three brand names: Duragesic, Sublimaze and Actiq. Duragesic is a patch that goes on the skin, Sublimaze is an intravenous anesthetic, and Actiq typically comes in the form of a lollipop.

Police reports state Qualley was found with one fentanyl patch on each of her upper arms, which would have been enough to cause an overdose.

Thomas noted she also found conditions of chemical dependency, chronic pain and bipolar disorder.

The autopsy results came more than a month after Qualley was found dead inside her apartment at 1102 Ramsey St. in Albert Lea on Feb. 8.

At that time, police stated there was no outward indication as to the cause of her death, so she was taken to the Dakota County Medical Examiner’s Office, which is standard procedure when a person under the age of 50 dies under unknown circumstances.

Investigators also looked into why there was a delay between Qualley’s death and the call to authorities.

According to police reports, Qualley was found dead in her bed by her boyfriend — the father of Qualley’s son.

Reports stated that because he had been through that type of situation before, when his wife died, “he knew he needed to take time to get his head together before calling police.”

He got their son ready for school and dropped him off at school so that he didn’t know yet that his mother had died.

He then went to his work, Hanson Tire, where he works for Junior and Wanda Dorman, Qualley’s adopted grandparents. They, along with a few others, came back to the apartment. After this, they called police.

Police conducted several interviews but ultimately filed no charges.

Qualley, a 1995 Albert Lea High School graduate, was described as being a “quiet, shy” person who loved her 5-year-old son, Morgan, very much, according to her sister, Holly Mortenson of Freeborn, in an earlier interview. She was seeking treatment at Cedar House in downtown Albert Lea.

Police reports stated both of Qualley’s parents also died as a result of drug abuse.