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Monday, March 2, 2020

Lara Prychodko's Mysterious Death

     In the decade prior to 2015, 46-year-old Lara Prychodko lived the life of a wealthy, New York City socialite. Her husband, David Christopher Schlacet, was co-founder of a New York City construction company called Taocon, Inc. The couple owned a condominium in Toronto, two homes in the Hamptons, and a pair of apartments in New York City. But by 2016, there was a problem: Lara Prychodko's drug and alcohol problem had caught up with her. In 2012, she had been convicted of driving while intoxicated, and in 2015 had lost custody of her ten-year-old son, Talin. As part of the custody settlement with her estranged husband, the domestic court judge ordered Prychodko to undergo regular drug and alcohol testing which she regularly failed.

     In 2016, Lara and her husband separated and began the process of going though a divorce. That year, Mr. Schlacet's construction company Taocon, Inc. filed for bankruptcy. The firm owned creditors $3.4 million and had assets of $550,000.

     Lara Prychodko resided in a luxury apartment in Union Square, Manhattan called Zeckendore Towers. (Hillary Clinton's top aide Huma Abedin and her husband, the disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner, had once lived in the building.) By 2018, Lara Prychodko and Mr. Schlacet were trying to work out how to divide the marital property.

    At 4:10 in the afternoon of July 18, 2018, one of Lara Prychodko's neighbors on the 27th floor of Zeckendore Towers, heard a noise coming from the hallway. When the neighbor stepped out of her apartment to investigate, she saw a purse sitting on the carpet near the door to the trash compactor chute. (The handbag was later identified as Lara's.)

     A Zeckendore Towers maintenance employee, at 4:40 that afternoon, came upon the topless body of a woman inside the basement trash compactor. Responding New York City police officers pronounced the woman, identified as Lara Prychodko, dead at the scene.

     As part of the sudden, unexplained death investigation, detectives viewed a Zeckendore hallway surveillance video that showed, about the time the 27th floor neighbor heard the noise near the trash compactor door, Lara Prychodko stumbling about the hallway in what appeared to be a state of intoxication. Based on the dead woman's history with drugs and alcohol, and what appeared on the surveillance video, detectives wound up the investigation by concluding she had died as the result of a "drunken accident."

     On September 18, 2018, New York City Medical Examiner Barbara Sampson ruled Lara Prychodko's death from the 27-floor plunge into the trash compactor, "Undetermined." In her report, the medical examiner wrote: "The circumstances around this death are unclear; however, there is no suspicion of foul play."

     Following the New York City Medical Examiner's cause and manner of death rulings, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office closed the case.

     Lara Prychodko's father, Nicholas Prychodko, who believed his daughter might have been murdered, asked the famed forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden, to review the official autopsy inquiry into the death. Dr. Baden agreed to take the case at no charge.

    After studying the autopsy report, X-rays, laboratory results, and death scene photographs, Dr. Baden, in a July 15, 2019 letter to Mr. Prychodko, wrote: "Lara Prychodko may have died because of homicidal ligature strangulation and placed in the garbage chute." Dr. Baden considered the fact the victim's blouse was off as possible evidence of violence. He also found, on Prychodko's body, what he considered physical signs of a struggle.

     In February 2020, Dr. Baden expressed his views on Lara Prychodko's death to an interviewer on Fox News

     The Manhattan District Attorney's Office, and the investigating officers with the New York City Police Department, continued to maintain no foul play in Lara Prychodko's death. The case remained closed.

     Nicholas Prychodko, at a press conference, said, "I no longer accept the validity of their [the New York City Medical Examiner's Office] autopsy report and its conclusions." Mr. Prychodko announced that he had hired a private investigator to look into the case.

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