RENO, Nev. – The husband of the late State Controller Kathy Augustine was arrested in Virginia on Friday and charged with her murder after an FBI toxicology test found a paralyzing drug in her system.
Chaz Higgs, 42, was arrested in Hampton, Va., on a warrant issued in Reno charging him with first-degree murder, Reno police spokesman Steve Frady said. He apparently was driving there to visit his father and stepmother, who live there, investigators said.
The warrant was issued Wednesday afternoon, just hours after a coroner's autopsy and results of toxicology tests found in Augustine's system a drug, succinylcholine, which police described as a "very powerful paralytic."
That warrant and test results had been kept secret until Reno police announced Higgs' arrest Friday afternoon.
"It had become a criminal investigation at that point and everything was sealed," Frady told The Associated Press.
Augustine, 50, died at Washoe Medical Center in Reno on July 11. That was three days after Higgs, a critical care nurse at Carson-Tahoe Regional Medical Center, said he found her unconscious in their Reno home.
Higgs told the media she died of a massive heart attack. But police said Augustine had no history of heart problems and that a preliminary autopsy showed no obvious signs of heart disease.
Three days after her death, Higgs tried to commit suicide. He was released from a hospital later that day, and didn't attend his wife's funeral the following day.
Augustine's brother, Phil Alfano, said family members had been suspicious of Higgs all along.
"We're saddened but we're not surprised," Alfano said Friday.
"There were a lot of things that we saw in terms of his behavior during her hospitalization and obviously during the funeral and afterward that made us very suspicious," he told AP.
"At this point we just hope that he does the right thing and cooperates with the police and spares us any additional grief," he said.
Higgs was pulled over and arrested while driving in Hampton Friday afternoon, Frady said.
State and local police in Virginia did not immediately confirm the arrest. But Frady said Reno detectives have been working the case in Virginia for weeks in cooperation with local law enforcement "so they were aware of the vehicle he might be driving."
"He's been back East off and on since the funeral. The investigators were aware of his locations. That is one of the reasons we moved when we did," he told AP.
Investigators said that medical experts told them that the drug found in Augustine's system paralyzes muscles in the body within several minutes, including the muscles used for breathing. The drug is used in hospital operating rooms, emergency rooms and intensive care units to facilitate placement of breathing tubes in patients, they said.
"It's normally either injected or ingested but the information we have on how she received it has not been made public," Frady said.
While Augustine was at the hospital, Reno police homicide investigators got a tip that she may have been the victim of foul play, Frady said.
Detectives worked with the Washoe County Coroner's Office and Washoe Medical Center personnel to ensure that biological samples would be available for toxicology testing in the event of her death, he said.
Higgs has vehemently denied that he had anything to do with his wife's death. He had been the nurse for Augustine's previous husband, Charles Augustine, who died three years ago in Las Vegas. Three weeks later she married Higgs in Hawaii.
Greg Augustine, Kathy Augustine's adult stepson, had said earlier he wanted his father's remains exhumed and an autopsy conducted if the FBI determined that Kathy Augustine didn't die of natural causes.
"It would be up to Las Vegas Metro Police whether they would reopen that case or not," said Frady, who planned a media briefing on Monday with additional information. "They may not have had a chance to absorb all this yet."