First arrest made in year-old overdose death
Editor’s Note: As of Wednesday, April 16, this is an updated version with additional information from the initial story that was posted online on Monday, April 14.
A first arrest has been made and more are anticipated in the ongoing investigation of last year’s fatal drug overdose of 16-year-old Fredericksburg High School sophomore Samuel (Sammy) Herrera.
Robert Gavin Jeffrey, 19, of Fredericksburg, was indicted on charges of “Criminally Negligent Homicide” and “Delivery of Dangerous Drug” by the Gillespie County Grand Jury when it convened Monday, April 7.
Jeffrey is accused of taking an active part in supplying the synthetic hallucinogen “25b-NBOMe” to Herrera and another FHS student, James Jarreau, who also overdosed but survived in the same incident on April 20, 2013.
If eventually found guilty of the state jail felony charges, Jeffrey could face a punishment of confinement in a state jail for a term lasting from 180 days to not more than two years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000, for each count.
He reportedly turned himself in to authorities on Thursday, April 10, once he learned that he had been indicted, according to Fredericksburg Police Department Detective Javier Sanchez, who led the investigation of circumstances surrounding Herrera’s death.
Jeffrey, who was also an FHS student (originally a member of the Class of 2013), posted a $25,000 bond on the criminally negligent homicide charge and a $10,000 bond on the charge of delivering a dangerous drug to gain release from the Gillespie County Jail the same day he was booked, Sanchez said.
His arrest comes after nearly a year of investigations and forensics testing to help investigators and prosecutors line up evidence in the case.
“And, we’re not done yet,” Sanchez said, adding that the investigation is ongoing and others suspected of involvement in Herrera’s overdose death are expected to go before the grand jury during its next regularly-scheduled session on Monday, May 5, at the Gillespie County Courthouse.
At least two juveniles are among those who are to be held accountable for the roles they played in circumstances leading to the fatality, County Attorney Chris Nevins said.
Because of the restrictions put in place by laws, their identities and the specific charges they face cannot be revealed to the public, Nevins said.
In addition, he explained that juvenile law is civil and not criminal, so rather than being found “guilty” they could only be found “delinquent” — with the ultimate goal to be rehabilitation of those accused.
That said, Nevins added, “A petition showing delinquency will be filed against a juvenile for a misdemeanor,” while “a civil petition will be filed against another juvenile for a felony.”
Nevins did add that the prosecution has it within its rights to seek a “determinate sentence.” That means, the accused juvenile, if found delinquent, could face punishment beyond his or her 18th birthday, when they become an adult in the eyes of the law.
“We are not turning a blind eye,” Nevins said. “We are working really hard and diligently. This is only a portion of the effort that we are pushing forward.
“Every day, we get stronger and more aggressive,” he said, adding that “this is just one portion of it — one sad portion, a very tragic portion.”
Numerous law officers have said that many in the community express frustrations over the length of time it has taken for legal ramifications to come about following the death of the FHS athlete known for his smile and for being a “gentle giant.”
Sanchez responded that much of the time spent in the investigation was due to the newness of 25b-NBOMe and the need to develop tests to identify it.
At the time of Herrera’s death, the synthetic drug which has been likened to LSD for its hallucinogenic properties, was not considered an illegal element. In fact, it had been purchased over the Internet before being sold to the FHS students, police reports stated.
The drug is a white powder and was ingested by way of insufflation (nasal snorting), police reports said. More of it was discovered at the scene of the overdose and taken into evidence.
It was sent to the Department of Public Safety forensics laboratory in Austin where tests had to be developed to identify its compounds. That took time, Sanchez said.
That testing process helped Dr. Suzanna Dana, medical examiner at Central Texas Autopsy in Lockhart, positively identify it in a sample of Herrera’s blood.
In December 2013, she then amended her original autopsy finding to list his cause of death due to “complications of 25b-NBOMe intoxication.”
At the time of Herrera’s death, information originally released indicated the drug was 25c-NBOMe, but the forensics testing cleared that up.
Drug manufacturers use slight changes in chemical compounds to stay one step ahead of the legal system.
However, on Nov. 15, 2013, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency added 25b-NBOMe and some other related drugs to Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, making it an illicit drug.
Herrera was buried at Greenwood Cemetery on April 24.
The community galvanized over the youths and drugs issue in the past year, working toward more stringent policies in local schools and better communication between students and law enforcement.
The message many propagated from Herrera’s loss was that bad choices could permanently affect any youth — even a straight-A, honor student or all-around athlete.