Dad to trek for sentencing of man who sold daughter fatal fentanyl
A Temecula dad whose 20-year-old daughter died from fentanyl poisoning will begin a roughly 60-mile trek next week that, over the course of three days, takes him from his home to the federal courthouse in Riverside, where the dealer who sold his child the deadly pills will be sentenced.
On Feb. 24, Matt Capelouto will initiate his “Walk for Justice” in memory of Alexandra Capelouto, who died in December 2019 after she consumed what she believed to be Oxycodone capsules but were actually tablets containing fentanyl.
Brandon Michael McDowell, 24, pleaded guilty in August to possession with intent to distribute fentanyl for causing Alexandra’s death. McDowell, who is facing a maximum of 20 years in federal prison, is slated for sentencing on Feb. 27.
“Since that fateful night three years ago, Matt has been on the front lines of a fight to hold drug dealers criminally responsible for knowingly causing the deaths of thousands of Americans by disguising lethal doses of fentanyl as common prescription and recreational drugs, and then selling those counterfeits to unsuspecting victims for profit,” according to DrugInducedHomicide.org, which Capelouto founded. “Matt will attend the sentencing hearing by walking nearly 60 miles to raise funds and promote awareness of this nonprofit organization.”
The trek will be inaugurated at Morgan Hill Park in Temecula on the morning of Feb. 24. It will cover 20 miles the first day, with an overnight stay in Menifee, from which Capelouto, his friends and supporters will depart on the morning of Feb. 25 at Farfield Inn & Suites, traveling another 20 miles to the Hampton Inn on Van Buren Boulevard in Riverside. On Feb. 26, the group will leave the hotel and make the final leg of the journey, ending at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in downtown Riverside, less than a half-mile from U.S. District Court on 14th Street.
McDowell’s sentencing is set for 2 p.m. on Feb. 27. He’s being held without bail at a federal lockup in San Bernardino.
“On the night of Dec. 22, 2019, Alexandra asked the defendant if he could sell her Percocet pills, a prescription painkiller,” according to the plea agreement. “The defendant agreed … and sold her what turned out to be approximately 11 counterfeit Oxycodone pills that he later described as ‘M30s.’ The defendant knew it was illegal for him to sell the pills and that they contained fentanyl.”
The narrative states that Capelouto “ingested half of one of the pills” just prior to turning in for bed.
“The fentanyl entered her system, poisoning her body and causing her death,” according to the prosecution.
Prosecutors said Capelouto was a student at Arizona State University and had returned home for the holidays, during which time she contacted the defendant via Snapchat.
Matt Capelouto said his daughter did not realize she was ingesting fentanyl-laced pills.
“My daughter didn’t want to die,” he said during a news briefing in January 2022. “She took one pill, and it was not a wise choice. Everybody in the supply chain needs to be held accountable. The drug dealers, the cartels in Mexico, right back to China. This war is not fought with bullets. They’re poisoning us from within.”
The case generated wide publicity and prompted Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, to introduce and then reintroduce “Alexandra’s Law,” Senate Bill 350, which failed in committee twice last year. It would have mandated that under state law, anyone convicted of dealing fentanyl or other potentially deadly drugs be issued a written warning that an overdose death resulting from providing such drugs in the future could result in the party being prosecuted for murder.
The intention was to facilitate prosecutors’ efforts to file murder charges against dealers. Some prosecutors are pressing ahead with murder filings anyway. In Riverside County, nearly two dozen criminal complaints alleging murder from “fentanyl poisoning” have been lodged in the last two years.
Fentanyl is manufactured in overseas labs, and according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, it’s smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border by cartels. The substance is 80-100 times more potent than morphine and is a popular additive, mixed into any number of narcotics and pharmaceuticals. The ingestion of only two milligrams can be fatal.
In 2022, there were about 415 fentanyl-induced deaths throughout Riverside County, while in 2021, there just under 400 poisonings, representing a 200-fold increase from 2016, when public safety officials say that only two such fatalities were documented.
Statistics published in May by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed there were roughly 108,000 fatal drug overdoses in 2021, and fentanyl poisoning accounted for over 70,000 of them.
Figures published by the CDC and other agencies show that fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 and 45 years old.