Fort Lewis soldier faces charges over girl found dead on base

TACOMA, Wash. — A 19-year-old Fort Lewis soldier will face a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a high school sophomore whose body was found on the post last month, the Army announced Tuesday.

Timothy E. Bennitt, a native of Indiana, also has been charged with wrongful distribution and use of controlled substances and conspiracy to wrongfully use controlled substances.

The case will be presented for a hearing similar to that of a civilian grand jury. Bennitt could face court-martial as a result of the hearing. He could face 82 years in prison.

Leah King, a Lakes High School sophomore, was found dead at a post barracks early Feb. 15. Investigators determined the teen died of a toxic combination of Xanax, which is used to treat panic disorders, and Opana, a pain reliever. Some of the drugs were inhaled.

Another 16-year-old girl was found unresponsive at the same time and was released from a hospital after treatment. Both girls were acquainted with a soldier living in the barracks.

Army investigators suspect Bennitt, who reported to Fort Lewis in December 2007, was dealing to other soldiers.

Fort Lewis officials also announced a new process for gate entry to the base amid reports of girls sneaking onto the base. Minors must sign in at visitor's center. There will be tougher screening, officials said.

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