Last Updated: 1:38 p.m.
A Florida grand jury on Tuesday issued four indictments for first-degree murder–two in connection with the shooting death of Deon O’Neal Jenkins, 25, at a Palm Coast convenience store parking lot in 2019, and two in the unrelated deaths of Dimitry Popkov, 39, last September, and Michael Joseph Burnett Jr., 33, in June 2018, both from fentanyl overdoses.
The indictment of Marcus Avery Chamblin, a 26-year-old Palm Coast resident, in Jenkins’s death was expected. Chamblin was arrested two weeks ago following a 15-month investigation in the killing, along with Derrius Braxton Bauer, 26. But Bauer, a Jacksonville resident who formerly lived in Flagler and went to school here, was initially charged with principal to first degree murder.
Allyson Dawn Bennett, 39, of 13 Belleaire Drive in Palm Coast, was indicted in Burnett’s death. Javian Neesmith, 21, of 12 Buttermilk Drive in Palm Coast, was indicted in Popkov’s death.
Bennett’s and Neesmith’s indictments are Flagler County’s second and third indictments for murder stemming from the death of individuals from drug overdoses–a relatively new, rapidly expanding but also increasingly controversial trend in criminal prosecutions that began with the emergence of the fentanyl epidemic. Fentanyl, a prescription opioid originally used in surgeries, then as treatment for chronic pain, is a far more potent, addictive and potentially lethal variant of heroin.
Bennett was arrested on Wednesday when she had reported to the probation office, since she was on probation for drug offenses. To avoid a potential 20-year prison sentence, she had pleaded in 2018 to a three-year probation term for possession of drugs with intent to sell within 1,000 feet of a school or child care facility. She’d been arrested in 2018 in one of the sheriff’s office’s sting operations.
Her re-arrest Wednesday was “based on evidence, witness statements, as well as [Bennett’s] statement,” according to her arrest report. She had dealt Burnett a mixture of heroin and fentanyl, according to the sheriff. Burnett’s father had last spoken to his son late the night of June 22, before going to sleep. Early the next day he sought to wake him up for work–Burnett worked at Boulevard Tire in Bunnell–and found him not to be breathing, according to a sheriff’s incident report. That initial report was listed as a “death,” not an overdose death, and included no indications of an overdose. But a second report noted the presence of a syringe and indications of a possible overdose.
Popkov’s incident report left no doubt about the cause of death. A resident at the Karas Trail house where Popkov lived had called 911 in hysterics, reporting his overdose. Popkov was unresponsive when authorities arrived, and doses of Narcan, the neutralizing agent intended to restore breathing, was ineffective, as was CPR. There were various indications of drug use around him–and a cell phone that belonged to a roommate, that the roommate allowed Popkov to use. The phone was seized. The scene was turned over to detectives.
Neesmith’s was arrested last Sept. 1 on a charge of possessing fentanyl with intent to sell, and the unlawful use of a two-way communication device. Sheriff’s detectives had a cell phone in their possession–apparently, Popkov’s cell phone–that connected them to Neesmith, along with texts indicating he was allegedly involved in drug sales. Neesmith was arrested in a sting and has been at the Flagler County jail on $20,000 bond since, his case making its way through pre-trial hearings. He was served with the murder charge at the jail Wednesday, on no bond.
Speaking in a recorded video statement issued by his office this morning, Sheriff Rick Staly described the “three, very lengthy death investigations conducted by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Major Case and Special Investigations units.”
“The indictments of Bennet and Neesmith demonstrate the initiative that State Attorney R.J. Larizza and I committed to after noticing a dramatic rise in deaths linked to heroin and fentanyl,” Staly said. “Every overdose death in Flagler County is investigated and prosecuted as a homicide. There is no more slap on the wrist for selling drugs that cause overdose deaths. These poison peddlers will be held accountable.” Staly in his statement also underscored the toll of prescription-opioid deaths, citing a medical examiner report to estimate “15 to 20 deaths linked to fentanyl” in the county in 2019.
Staly’s figure may be overstated. The report lists deaths by medical examiner districts. Flagler’s district also includes St. Johns and Putnam counties. The numbers are not broken down by county. Flagler accounts for just 25 percent of the population in the district. For the district as a whole, the medical examiner found fentanyl to be the cause of death in 30 cases, what would equate to seven or eight deaths in Flagler, by proportion. The medical examiner found that with those cases where fentanyl was found in the body, but was not directly the cause of death, the total rises to 37, or between nine and 10 deaths in Flagler, proportionately. Deaths connected to fentanyl analogs add another five cases district-wide. There were no deaths related to heroin use alone, but there were 11 deaths in the district where heroin was found in combination with other drugs. (See those numbers here and here.)
That’s not to understate the severity of the opioid-overdose crisis, which occupies sheriff’s deputies almost on a daily basis, according to their own daily reports. The crisis did not abate locally or statewide, according to the state medical examiner’s 2019 report, the latest available.
The state report notes a 4 percent increase of all drug-related deaths in 2019, compared with 2018 (an increase of 494 deaths), and a 15 percent increase in opioid‐caused deaths, which totaled 4,294 (up 567). The drugs that caused the most deaths were fentanyl (3,244), cocaine (1,843), benzodiazepines (1,074, including 614 alprazolam deaths), ethyl alcohol (989), morphine (984), fentanyl analogs (922), methamphetamine (896) and heroin (809). The presence of fentanyl in the body of those who died increased by 35 percent (952 more), while deaths actually caused by fentanyl increased by 38 percent (896 more).
The Florida Legislature passed a law expanding murder charges to drug induced homicides in 2017. The law also imposes harsh penalties for fentanyl possession or dealing. In 2016, fentanyl was the leading cause of drug-overdose deaths, with 704 such deaths recorded. One of those 704 was that of Savannah DeAngelis, a 23-year-old Palm Coast resident who had been in drug court and was recovering from addiction at Project Warm when the program booted her out in circumstances both DeAngelis and her parents questioned. Within days, DeAngelis had connected with Joseph Colon, then a 34-year-old dealer, who delivered fentanyl to her home. She overdosed shortly after the delivery and never regained consciousness before her death at the hospital.