Florida man implicated in El Jebel drug deaths gets suspended sentence
EAGLE — A South Florida man suspected of selling pills containing heroin and a powerful synthetic opioid that caused or contributed to the drug overdose deaths of two El Jebel men in March 2017 finalized a plea agreement with prosecutors Wednesday in Eagle County District Court.
Samuel Brunelus, 26, of Deerfield Beach, entered an “Alford plea” to three counts of second-degree assault, a class 4 felony, pleading guilty to the charges.
According to the agreement, Brunelus was sentenced to two years of probation and to five years in Colorado Department of Corrections on each charge. The concurrent prison sentences were suspended, which means Brunelus will not serve them if he successfully completes his probation. Brunelus was also given credit for 519 days already served in jail, and ordered to pay $1,850 in restitution and $2,279 for the cost of his extradition from Florida.
Brunelus allegedly played a role in getting the pills into the hands of Camilo E. Sanchez. The pills were shipped via UPS from Florida. The morning after the pills arrived, on March 24, 2017, Sanchez, 30, and a roommate, Michael J. Martinez, 26, were found dead from a drug overdose in their home in the Blue Lake subdivision near El Jebel. A third roommate suffered a near-fatal drug overdose, but recovered.
A Colorado Bureau of Investigation analysis of the pills found in Sanchez’s home determined they contained a mixture of heroin and carfentanil, a powerful synthetic opioid, according to a police affidavit.
A coroner determined Sanchez died accidentally as a result of mixed drug intoxication, with acute carfentanil toxicity and recent cocaine use. Martinez also died accidentally from mixed drug intoxication, with carfentanil, cocaine, alcohol and possible morphine and hydrocodone found, according to the affidavit.
Carfentanil is used as a tranquilizing agent to rapidly immobilize elephants and other large mammals. The drug is reportedly 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. The drug was linked to an outbreak of nearly 1,200 overdose deaths in Florida in 2016 and 2017, according to research published in February 2020 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and DEA investigated the overdoses and where the pills came from. A UPS envelope sent to Sanchez from Florida, cell phone data, and interviews eventually led police to Brunelus, with a warrant issued for his arrest in July 2017.
A district court judge reportedly dismissed manslaughter charges against Brunelus during a preliminary hearing in November 2017, finding there was not enough evidence to support them. A grand jury later indicted Brunelus on the assault charges.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Brunelus asked the court if he can have his probation transferred to Florida, and that is something he can apply for, the judge said.
Johnny Lombardi, a deputy district attorney with the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, told the court prosecutors think the plea agreement is an appropriate resolution for the long-running case after consulting with victims and their families. “He is pleading guilty to three felonies, and should he violate any terms or conditions (of probation), he would have extended time in DOC to serve,” Lombardi said.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.