JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Five people accused of selling opioids to victims who died of overdose deaths over the last 18 months are facing murder charges, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson announced Tuesday.
Williams said that his deputies responded to 263 overdose deaths last year. He has assigned narcotics and homicide detectives to work together to try to determine who sold the drugs that caused the death.
Nelson said her office has assigned three assistant state attorneys to prosecute these cases.
Ashley Cooper, 25, Ashley Urmanec, 34, Adriene Velarde, 36, Donte Wadley, 23, are charged with murder in state court and Larry Bouknight, who was originally charged with murder by local authorities, is being prosecuted in federal court.
In addition to those five people, another 20 were arrested in other charges and probable cause to charge them with murder still exists.
According to a police report, Cooper is accused of giving a man drugs and he died in October as a result. Investigators said a cellphone linked Cooper to the man’s death.
News4Jax visited Cooper’s last known address on the Southside, but no one answered the door. According to the report, she told police she was an ambulance driver.
Williams and Nelson said that since the much more powerful fentanyl is being mixed with heroin, the number of overdoses have increased.
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Keith Powers said the number of overdose calls in Jacksonville increased by 45% between 2018 and 2019. He said in some cases firefighters have treated the same person for multiple overdoses in the same day.
“From Jan. 1st to Oct. 24th (overdoses) resulted in 320 deaths in this community,” Powers said. “That projects to about one a day.”
Nelson said the opioid epidemic is playing out in Northeast Florida just like across the United States, leaving families devastated. She said aggressive police work is being met with equally aggressive prosecution to try to stem the number of overdose deaths in the community.
“Heroin is not a recreational drug," Williams said. “You may think you’re buying something, but you’re getting something else. Every time you use illegal drugs, you’re taking your life in your hands.”