A second person has been indicted on federal drug charges in connection with the fatal fentanyl overdose of a 30-year-old Carbondale man late last year.
Bruce Holder, 52, of Grand Junction, was taken into custody by Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Western Colorado Drug Task Force officers Tuesday and appeared in federal court that afternoon.
Holder has been indicted by a federal grand jury on a single count each of distribution of fentanyl resulting in death and distribution of fentanyl resulting in serious bodily injury. While documents related to his case remained under seal Tuesday afternoon, Steve Knight, the DEA's Grand Junction resident agent-in-charge, confirmed that Holder's case is tied to that of 27-year-old Grand Junction resident Christopher Huggett. Huggett was indicted on identical charges in the same case last month and remains in custody.
The first charge in both men's cases relates to the Dec. 28 death of Carbondale resident Jonathan Ellington.
Federal court filings identify Ellington only by the initials "J.E." and reference that he died by overdose on or about Dec. 28 in Carbondale after coming into contact with fentanyl or a fentanyl mixture. The Garfield County Coroner's Office confirmed that Ellington died that day of fentanyl intoxication. A second man identified in court records as "Z.G." survived a near-fatal overdose the same night, according to documents in Huggett's case.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used as a powerful anesthetic. According to the DEA, the drug is judged to be 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Both men apparently came into contact with blue-colored fentanyl-laced pills known by the street name "smurfs," according to earlier reports.
Federal law enforcement officers believe Huggett sold 12 pills to Z.G., who sold 10 pills to Ellington. It's not clear from public records where Holder is believed to stand in the chain of supply.
During Tuesday's hearing, Holder asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher to appoint a lawyer to his case and to preserve his right to a speedy trial. His wife and son attended as well.
Both Holder and Huggett are facing 20 years to life in federal prison in connection with the case.
Knight said he believes the investigation will cut off a major fentanyl supply in the region.
"(The DEA and the drug task force) began an aggressive investigation as soon as we started noticing a pattern in fentanyl deaths in the Mesa County area," Knight said Tuesday.
Drug agents also raided an address in the 2400 block of Gunnison Avenue Tuesday in connection with Holder's arrest, although Knight said no drugs were seized.
Knight said more arrests in connection with the investigation are possible.
While Holder and Huggett have only been charged in connection with Ellington's death, his wasn't the only fentanyl-related death in western Colorado in recent months. Ashley Romero, 32, of Grand Junction, died June 11 after taking what police believe was a fentanyl-laced pill. Local law enforcement agencies issued a public service announcement shortly after warning Mesa County residents against counterfeit prescription oxycodone pills that actually contain fentanyl, saying they had noticed multiple overdoses where the pills seemed to be involved.
The Friday arrest of Richard A. Henry of Grand Junction, who told drug investigators that he was running a dark web fentanyl dealing scheme, appears to be unrelated to Holder and Huggett, Knight said.