Case thrown out in carfentanyl drug overdose deaths, not enough evidence, judge rules
November 6, 2017
EAGLE — There is not enough evidence to send a Florida man to trial in the drug overdose deaths of two Blue Lake men, a judge ruled.
Samuel Brunelus was released from the Eagle County jail after District Court Judge Fred Gannett ruled that the description of "a black man with a cellphone … in South Florida" was not enough to identify Brunelus as a participant in the drug overdose deaths of two Roaring Fork Valley men.
"The only evidence is that there was a black guy in South Florida carrying a phone. Mr. Brunelus did not own that phone," Florida attorney Rick Douglas argued during Brunelus' preliminary hearing. "A black man in South Florida with a phone is not enough. It cannot be enough."
Gannett agreed, setting Brunelus free and dismissing the manslaughter charges.
"These cases are a high priority for me," District Attorney Bruce Brown said in a statement "We have an overdose epidemic on our hands, and sitting idly by and watching young people die is not an option for this office or the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. This ruling is a setback, but there will be no surrender from this quarter."
'They just dropped'
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Around 5 a.m. the morning of March 24, Michael Martinez, 26, and Camillo Sanchez, 30, were found dead by a fourth man living in a Blue Lake home shared with Sanchez, Martinez and Alexander Raywood.
The fourth man woke up just before 5 a.m., checked the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus schedule, walked to his room and then to the kitchen, where he saw Sanchez on the kitchen floor, his face covering a heating vent, Eagle County Sheriff's detective George Dow testified. Sanchez was "stiff and cold to the touch," Dow said.
The man checked around the house and found Martinez, also "cold and stiff to the touch," Dow said.
Both died quickly and, it seemed, in the same manner, Det. Aaron Veldheer testified. There was no sign of a struggle or fight, Veldheer said.
"They just dropped," he said.
Raywood was found on the couch, still alive but making gurgling sounds, Dow testified.
That fourth man called 911, and Eagle County Sheriff's deputies were there in moments. They treated Raywood with Narcan, which counters the effects of an opiate overdose long enough to get the victim medical help, Veldheer testified. Raywood was rushed to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.
Veldheer said that during the initial investigation, he found a UPS package on Martinez' bed, addressed to Sanchez. The return address was from Boca Raton, Florida. The package was shipped overnight on March 22, and delivered March 23, Veldheer said.
On one of Sanchez' arms was scrawled a tracking number matching the one on the UPS shipping envelope, according to testimony.
A wire transfer for $180 for the purchase was made from Glenwood Springs to a man in Florida, according to testimony. That Florida man held onto the pills 23 hours before shipping them from Florida to the Roaring Fork Valley, according to testimony.
The pills were delivered at 9 p.m., March 23, 2017. Martinez and Sanchez' bodies were found at 5 a.m. the next morning. When deputies searched the house, they found nine capsules on the living room coffee table, Veldheer said.
A fingerprint on the pill bottle belonged to Sanchez.
Veldheer said that, during the investigation, they found cellphones with a series of text messages arranging a heroin purchase. Sanchez was texting from a Florida phone number and has an address in Boca Raton, Florida.
Douglas said that in the 900 pages of discovery, 49 voicemails indicate that both Sanchez and the Florida man were drug dealers. Detectives asserted that Brunelus was included in those messages.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation confirmed on April 14 that the capsules contained heroin laced with carfentanyl. A carfentanyl particle the size of a grain of sand or salt could be fatal, Veldheer said.
Carfentanyl is a synthetic opioid powerful enough to tranquilize elephants. It is surfacing in more and more communities and is often disguised as heroin, said DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg.
A female Aspen bartender told Dow that she refused to serve Sanchez the night he died because he was already high on drugs, Dow said.
The fight goes on
Brown said his office will not falter in the fight against heroin and other narcotics.
"We are exploring all alternatives in terms of accountability for the person who supplied fatal doses of carfentanyl to the decedents. Justice is important on these matters," Brown said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.