Drug Task Force unveiled amid fatal overdose investigation

Sheriff's Detective Bill Velek searches an older model Honda Civic Hybrid at the scene of a suspected fatal drug overdose near Spruce Street and 12th Street in Newhall. Austin Dave/The Signal
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Members of a new specialized federal drug task force began investigating the apparent drug overdose death of a man in Newhall on Tuesday.

The deceased man, whose identity has not been disclosed, was found unresponsive Tuesday morning, prompting a frantic call by family members to 911.

He was one of two people reported to have experienced a drug overdose in the Santa Clarita Valley on Tuesday.

“We responded to the 24600 block of Spruce Street in Newhall at approximately 10:42 a.m. today regarding a rescue call,” said Lt. Ignacio Somoano of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

“A male adult was pronounced deceased at the scene,” he said. “The cause of death is undetermined and the (Los Angeles County Medical Examiner) Coroner’s office will ultimately be utilized to determine the cause of death.”
Newhall house

At 10:40 a.m., paramedics with the L.A. County Fire Department responded to reports of an overdose at a residence on the 24000 block of Spruce Street, said Vanessa Lozano, spokeswoman for the Fire Department.

Paramedics arrived at the scene at 10:45 a.m. and began performing CPR, she said.

“A woman apparently came out of the house screaming that someone was dying,” Lozano said. Paramedics cleared from the scene at 11:22 a.m., she added.

Deputies who remained at the scene roped off an area of concern with yellow tape, including inside the protected area a charcoal-colored Honda Civic parked on 12th Street at the house.

At least one detective scoured the inside of the car before it was roped off.

Joining deputies at the house on the southwest corner of Spruce and 12th Street were members of the Southern California Drug Task Force.

Drug Task Force

The task force was put together to disrupt illicit drug trafficking by immobilizing targeted violators and trafficking organizations that use the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area as a trans-shipment point for illicit drugs to other regions of the nation or as a money-laundering hub, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

“We’re here for an unknown cause of death,” said one DEA agent assigned to the task force who would not give his name.

“Based on the information we have, we believe it is drug-related,” he said, a couple of minutes after having emerged from the deceased man’s house.

Task force members responded to the overdose on Spruce Street in an effort to get a jump on their investigation into drug-dealing people connected with the incident.

“Because there are so many overdoses we want to act fast,” the DEA agent said, noting there has been a significant spike in overdose deaths this year.

“We had two overdoses today — this one and another one. The other guy survived,” he said.

At mid-afternoon, officials with the county Coroner’s Office arrived at the house to investigate and remove the body.

At one point, two women emerged from the house sobbing, one comforting the other.

Pastor help

Associate Pastor Javier Nuñez with the Victory Outreach Ministries was inside the deceased man’s house, comforting surviving relatives.

“We try to help those in the grip of addiction,” Nuñez said outside the house.

“I’m here for support,” he said, saying he knew the deceased man.

The Victory Outreach Church of the San Fernando Valley is an international, church-oriented Christian ministry which, according to its mission statement online, is “called to the task of evangelizing and discipling the hurting people of the world, with the message of hope and plan of Jesus Christ.”

The Southern California Drug Task Force operates within a larger drug program called The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. It provides assistance to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States.

Los Angeles County is considered one of those critical areas.

“One of the things we want to know at a scene such as this is — A, is it a drug-related death?” the agent said. “And, B — does it involve an opioid?”

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