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Watch: RivCo leaders discuss impact of fentanyl, push for legislation to charge dealers with murder

Riverside County law enforcement officials today joined a state lawmaker and families of victims "poisoned'' by fentanyl, calling on the public to support legislative and other efforts aimed at stemming the "tide and scourge'' of the deadly synthetic drug.

The initial goal of the gathering was to rally behind state Sen. Melissa Melendez's Senate Bill 350, which sought to establish a written advisory for anyone convicted of manufacturing, producing or selling fentanyl.

The advisory would have warned that repeating the conduct and causing someone's death because of it in the future could mean charges of voluntary manslaughter or second-degree murder, facilitating prosecutors' ability to file those charges.

Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, said that the Senate Committee on Public Safety killed her bill Tuesday, repeating what it did in March 2021.   

"From my perspective, it seems as though the Legislature is not serious about dealing with this epidemic,'' she said. ``Kids are dying from people selling this poison. We need the public's help.''

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said a change in the law is long overdue.  

"It's impossible now to avoid fentanyl,'' Hestrin said. "It's pouring into our country in shocking numbers, and it's finding its way mixed into all illicit drugs sold on the street. We need to be able to bring justice and deter that conduct. That's the way we begin to fight against the tide and scourge of fentanyl."  

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, a former legislator, said Melendez's bill was killed because there is ``an absolute effort by the governor and majority of legislators to open the doors and let people out of prison."

"They are obstructionists. They want to provide get-out-of-jail free cards, and there's a complete lack of sympathy for the victims,'' Spitzer continued. "Remember, these aren't overdoses. They're poisonings. People are taking illicit drugs, yes, but they don't know they're ... ingesting fentanyl. Young, innocent, unsuspecting people are dying.''

In the last year, Riverside County prosecutors charged 10 people with second-degree murder for selling fentanyl with fatal results. Hestrin and Bianco said the work necessary to justify a murder complaint is lengthy and exhausting, but they're pressing ahead to send a message, despite no help from the state.

Officials were joined by the parents of victims of fentanyl poisoning.

Check Out: Fentanyl’s heartbreaking impact and how Riverside County is tackling the deadly drug

Samuel Chapman who lost their son, 16-year-old Sammy, to fentanyl poisoning in February 2021, spoke briefly. As did Matt Capelouto, who lost his daughter, 20-year-old Alexandra, to fentanyl poisoning in just two days before Christmas in 2019.

We've spoken with Matt Capelouto in the past about the passing of his daughter and his work for legislative change.

Last month, the man who sold his daughter the fentanyl-laced pill was arrested and faces federal charges. 

Fentanyl is manufactured in China and smuggled across the Mexican border, according to Sheriff Chad Bianco.   

It is known to be 80-100 times more potent than morphine and is a popular additive, seamlessly mixed into any number of narcotics and pharmaceuticals.

A penny compared to 2 milligrams of fentanyl, a lethal dose to most people (Source DEA)

Last month, Riverside County District Attorney Hestrin told News Channel 3 that fentanyl deaths are up by more than 800% in the last five years in the county.

In 2016, there were two fentanyl-related deaths in the county. This year, they expect to see between 500-600 deaths.

In Nov. 2021, Hestrin joined Spitzer in announcing that those who manufacture or sell the fentanyl can be charged with murder if someone dies after ingesting or being exposed to it.

Jesus Reyes

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Jennifer Franco

Jennifer Franco is the weekend anchor/weekday reporter for KESQ News Channel 3

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