'If she could save one life': Legacy for CA fentanyl victim who died before high school graduation

The family has spent 18 months following court cases involving the girl who gave Olivia a pill and the man who sold it to her.

ByCorin Hoggard KFSN logo
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
A legacy for fentanyl victim who died before Clovis North graduation
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A Fresno family is living through the shock and grief of losing a child to fentanyl and hoping they can help other families prevent similar tragedies.

FRESNO, Calif. -- A Fresno family is living through the shock and grief of losing a child to fentanyl and hoping they can help other families prevent similar tragedies.

Olivia Patla died last year, the day before her graduation from Clovis North.

The 18-year-old's presence is everywhere you look in her family's dining room - her photos on graduation mementos, her young handprint on a Christmas ornament, wind chimes and the crystals she loved.

"We feel like she's here with us when we're in here with her," said her mother, Rene Patla.

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Her ashes rest nearby every night the Patlas sit down for dinner.

Olivia was a tall, athletic cheerleader with a memorable sense of style and a breathtaking singing voice.

Her parents says she always wanted to help people, especially senior citizens, and she considered making a career of it.

"She had a huge heart," said Rene Patla. "She liked to look out for other people. She always looked out for other people. Her friends and family were the most important thing to her. And she always wanted to make sure other people were taken care of."

Olivia finished her senior year at Clovis North and at her graduation party, she was shocked at how many friends came to honor her accomplishment.

She was too shy to say anything to the crowd, but her parents spoke up.

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"(We) talked about how proud of her we were, how much we loved her, and how," Rene said as her voice trailed off.

"She really appreciated what we did," said her father, Paul Patla, picking up where his wife left off.

The next night, the one before graduation, Olivia stayed at a friend's house. Her mom told her to be careful and Olivia touched base all night.

But the next morning, she was more than an hour late getting home when her mom decided to track her down at the friend's home.

"We turned the corner and there was a coroner," she said. "There was a coroner there, and the police were there. I jumped out of the moving car and I was screaming. And I said 'God, please God, no.'"

Rene saw her daughter's beautiful light brown eyes had gone lifeless.

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"I just cried and I kissed her forehead and I told her how sorry, how sorry I was that I didn't get there in time and that I didn't take care of her," she said.

A bouquet of flowers took Olivia's seat that night at graduation. And her family's plans pivoted.

"Instead, the graduation, the dress we fought about for hours to buy and find, she was so gorgeous in it, and she was cremated in that dress, in her graduation dress that she was supposed to be wearing under her cap and gown," Rene said.

The Patlas have spent 18 months grieving and following court cases involving the girl who gave Olivia a pill and the man who sold it to that girl.

The Patlas and law enforcement sources tell our sister station, Action News in Fresno, that the 17-year-old friend let Olivia die, refusing to call 911 and even recording video as it happened.

She was prosecuted as a minor, though, which is part of the reason the Patlas have struggled to get a complete picture.

"There are many discrepancies in the story with the timelines, when my daughter was struggling, when 911 was called," said Paul Patla. "So whatever happened in that house, there are unanswered questions."

Fresno County has seen fentanyl overdose deaths fall in 2022 - from 114 last year to 54 so far in 2022.

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Officer Dean Cardinale is assigned to the DEA task force overdose resolution team.

He attributes this year's improvement to people starting to understand the risk of fentanyl use and the increasing availability of Narcan.

Olivia's parents discussed the dangers with all four of their kids.

But Cardinale warns parents to keep that message on the minds of kids.

"They've always said the same thing: 'Not my kid. This is impossible'," Cardinale said. "I'm here to tell you it can be anybody's kid."

"If it can happen to her - it doesn't just happen to kids seeking pills or kids who are doing drugs or kids doing vapes and pot or whatever," Rene said. "It doesn't happen just at parties. It happened in someone's home where the parents were present."

Cardinale says people need to know they can call 911 if someone's overdosing. He says police are not looking at callers as suspects, but as victims.

The Patlas are hoping that by sharing Olivia's story, she can still serve her community and protect people.

"If anything can happen from this for Olivia, Olivia would want if she could save just anyone, one life," Rene said.

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