SPECIAL REPORT: Dealing with the Opioid Crisis: Cops Care in East Central Florida

Headline Surfer video / Above, Seminole County Sheriff's Deputy Fred Hilaire is featured in this special multimedia interview presentation on his efforts in saving the lives of two drug addicts who overdosed in separate incidents.
 
By HENRY FREDERICK
Headline Surfer

SANFORD, Fla. -- Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma doesn't put much stock into law enforcement monikers like "protect and serve."

As far as Central Florida's most progressive sheriff is concerned, actions speak louder than words.

Taking such cliches a step further, Lemma impreses upon his deputies the need for multiple interactions with the citizens in the working-class communities where newer apartment complexes dwarf older Florida-style homes, with palm tree clusters, acting as buffers to gas stations, convenience stores, fast-food eateries, and pharmacies.

"Because the people out there need to to see that "cops care," Lemma said, insisting the interactions are just as important in the more upscale communities with lush-green lawns, stately oak trees and the occasional golf course down the road.

Seminole County’s figures for opioid-related drug overdoses and deaths pale in comparison to the grim statistics in neighboring Volusia County on the east side of the St. Johns Bridge and of Orange County, further south, and west of the bridge on Interstate 4

Like its adjoining neighboring counties, Volusia and Orange, Seminole's drug-related figures have steadily risen each year since 2015, just not as dramatically. Sheriff Lemma is thankful for that, heaping praise on his deputies for the interactions since he was sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2017.

Since 2015, the synthetic opioids resulted in 398 overdoses and 45 deaths in Seminole County.

Heroin dealer charged with homicide in an overdose death

 Seminole County investigators back in January charged a Sanford man with homicide in connection with the death of a Lake Mary man who overdosed on heroin.

On Oct. 18, investigators were called to a home on Copper Ridge Court in reference to an overdose death. There, 28-year- old Edward Paul Mitschele Jr. was found unresponsive in a bathroom by a family member. Upon investigation, it was determined that the victim died from a mixture of heroin and fentanyl.

Through further investigation, deputies were able to establish a link between the victim and 29-year-old Nelson J. Larregui of Sanford. When investigators made contact with Larregui at his apartment complex, he started running. During his attempt to evade deputies, Larregui took something out of his pocket and threw it into the bushes.

After a short foot pursuit, Larregui was taken into custody. A baggie retrieved from the bushes contained three smaller baggies containing a substance which tested positive for heroin. The suspect was arrested on drug charges and booked into the John E. Polk Correctional Facility.​Opioid Crisis in East Central Florida / Headline SurferThe Medical Examiner’s final autopsy report determined the cause of Mitschele’s death to be the result of a heroin and fentanyl overdose. Through the course of the investigation, it was discovered that Larregui was the individual who supplied Mitschele the illegal drugs. On Jan. 4, Larregui was additionally charged with first-degree felony murder and unlawful distribution of a controlled substance. ​An Ormond Beach couple were found unconscious outside their SUV in the breakdown lane of eastbound Interstate 4 near DeLand on New Year's Eve 2017. 

Their three children -- ages 2,1 and an infant -- were strapped in their car seats watching a movie in the vehicle, which was left running with its flashers on. But the mom and dad were already dead before the first trooper, on scene could call out an ambulance. An autopsy revealed Daniel Kelsey, 32, and Heather Kelsey, 30, were killed by an overdose of Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid seen as the culprit behind a sudden spike in overdose deaths nationally. 

This tragic scenario on the eastbound side of I-4 would leave three small kids without their mom and dad to raise them -- a responsibility taken on by relatives. It also served as a precursor to what would become a near doubling of Fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths in Florida last year. 

Deaths caused by fentanyl increased by a whopping 97 percent in 2016, according to a recently released report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. There were 1,390 fentanyl-related deaths last year.

Opioid-related deaths in Florida jumped by more than a third in 2016: That's 5,725 people who lost their lives -- 1,483 more than the previous year. The findings caused Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump to declare opioid epidemics in Florida and nationally, respectively.

The FDLE report highlights findings of the state medical examiners’ annual drug death totals, demonstrating the devastating impact of fentanyl, described as a lethal synthetic opioid analgesic often mixed with heroin. 

The example set by Fred Hilaire, a Seminole County Sheriff's deputy 

Thanks to the heroics of a Seminole County Sheriff's deputy, two women in separate overdose situations last year survived, Sheriff Lemma stressed. That deputy is Fred Hilaire.

The 25-year-old deputy saved one woman found unconscious in the middle of a road by providing CPR and the second woman in a bathtub by administering Narcan. The life-saving efforts by Hilaire, married and living in Deltona, occurred within weeks of each other last May. 

Lemma has said "Deputy Hilaire is a hero," who relied on his instincts and law enforcement training in responding to the emergency situations at hand during the course of his patrol duties.  

"We continue to work in harmony with local, state and national officials to combat the opioid epidemic," Lemma said. "We recognize that proactive enforcement is just one of several ways this is done." 

Lemma said homicide prosecution of alleged drug dealers for supplying illicit drugs to users who die as a result of an overdose of supplied drugs is another tool. And yet another is supplying more deputies with Narcan, he said. And Narcan is the tool Hilaire relied upon in saving the overdose victims' lives.

Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma, shown here presenting an award to Hilaire in this SCSO-provided photo, hsas said "Deputy Hilaire is a hero" who relied on his instincts and law enforcement training in responding to the emergency situations at hand during his patrol duties.  

"We continue to work in harmony with local, state and national officials to combat the opioid epidemic," Lemma said. "We recognize that proactive enforcement is just one of several ways this is done."

Lemma said homicide prosecution of alleged drug dealers for supplying illicit drugs to users who die as a result of an overdose of supplied drugs is another tool. And yet another is supplying more deputies with Narcan, he said. And Narcan is the tool Hilaire relied upon in saving the overdose victims' lives.​

 

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com for a decade now. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards in print anddigital platforms. Frederick is enrolled at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's three-fourths through the online Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation is in August.