CA families, united by grief, introduce ballot initiative to punish fentanyl dealers

Zach Fuentes Image
Wednesday, September 6, 2023
CA families introduce ballot initiative to punish fentanyl dealers
Families coping with tragic losses introduced a ballot initiative in Sacramento that they hope will crack down on fentanyl dealers.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Fentanyl overdoses continue to devastate families in the Bay Area and across the state.

Families coping with tragic losses introduced a ballot initiative in Sacramento that they hope will crack down on fentanyl dealers, announcing the initiative at a Tuesday press conference.

On hand was 11-year-old Sonovah Hillman Jr., daughter of rapper DMX.

"I want my peers to have a shot at life, which is why I'm here," she said. "I lost my father to a drug overdose and my aunt and uncle to fentanyl overdoses."

Tragically, she's not the only one working to cope with tragedy.

Geralyn Maul-Vasquez of Gilroy is a parent, teacher, and now an outspoken advocate pushing for stronger legislation to crack down on fentanyl dealers.

"My son Jacob, we lost him November 28 of 2020, Thanksgiving weekend," she said.

VIDEO: How a Bay Area mom is turning grief into action by distributing Narcan in San Francisco

Michelle Leopold and her husband, who lost their 18-year-old son to fentanyl overdose, are helping train people to use naloxone, as well as giving it away.

Her son had taken what he thought was a Xanax pill.

"I have no idea if my son knew what was in that pill but I know he did not want to die that day," Maul-Vasquez said. "Seven months later, when we did get the autopsy report back, he had enough fentanyl in that pill to kill several people in one pill."

Fentanyl deaths are growing at increasingly tragic rates.

In San Francisco, at least 385 people died due to Fentanyl in the first seven months of this year.

In Santa Clara County fentanyl-related deaths more than doubled from April to May of this year.

"Young people are accessing these drugs through TikTok and online and even through friends," Santa Clara County supervisor Cindy Chavez said.

Chavez heads the county's fentanyl working group.

VIDEO: SJ man convicted of selling fentanyl-laced pills to Los Gatos High students, causing overdoses

Simon Armendariz of San Jose has been convicted of selling fentanyl-laced pills to Los Gatos High students, causing overdoses, district attorney says.

"The district attorney here has been very, very mindful of making sure that people are being charged at the appropriate level based on the information they have about each case," she said. "I think level-setting that statewide is actually very, very helpful."

State legislation is what the coalition of families is pushing for with the proposed Alexandra's Law.

"A law which gives convicted drug dealers a warning, a warning that makes them aware of the dangers of their actions and if they choose to ignore the warning, and someone dies, as a result, they will be held accountable," Matt Capelouto, a leader in formulating Alexandra's Law, said.

The law is named after Capelouto's daughter who died when she unknowingly took an oxycodone pill made with a lethal dose of fentanyl.

Placer County District Attorney Morgan Gire broke down the law at the Tuesday press conference.

"Alexandra's Law provides a warning to those involved in the distribution sales, furnishing of narcotics, are provided a warning that if they continue their behavior, consequences could be severe, and they could be charged with a criminal homicide should someone die as a result up to and including murder," Gire said. "The second component that provides a valuable tool for prosecutors provides for a sentencing enhancement should someone be convicted of selling narcotics containing fentanyl that leads to the death of another that would be punishable by either 10,11 or 12 years in the state prison."

VIDEO: 385 died of fentanyl overdose in SF this year; could set record, health officials say

Despite efforts to curtail the fentanyl crisis in San Francisco, health officials are reporting that 71 people died of an accidental overdose in July.

So far the law has not been able to get enough support by the state senate and assembly public safety committees.

Though there's been some support from both Republicans and Democrats, the two parties haven't been able to agree on specifics.

Tuesday, the coalition of families, joined by local leaders, filed a statewide ballot initiative to turn the law's fate over to voters.

"It's now time for Californians to vote to save the lives of fellow Californians," Capelouto said adding that their work to get it on the ballot is a long process that's only beginning. "It's going to be challenging, but it's a challenge well worth fighting."

For Maul-Vasquez, who has also helped with the legislation, she continues to hold out hope.

"It has been very emotional for me to go to Sacramento repeatedly and see it fall through time and time again," she said. "Hopefully it will get on a ballot, and it will be passed."

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