King County prosecutors look to charge drug dealers with homicide as overdose deaths continue to rise

With fentanyl deaths soaring across the country and locally in King County, prosecutors are working to build up more cases against drug dealers to charge them with controlled substance homicide. 

In King County, the rate of fentanyl overdoses has risen 650% over the last five years, and 1 in nine drug-related deaths in the state have been the result of an illegal synthetic drug, which is almost always fentanyl. 

In June, 25-year-old Ariel LaBaw died of an overdose. Police found pills that they immediately recognized as fentanyl next to her. 

A man named Treven Lane was arrested in connection to her death as police had reason to believe he was the one who sold her the fentanyl. 

Rather than charge him with drug dealing, King County prosecutors charged him with controlled substance homicide-- a more serious crime that is even more difficult to prove. 

Using text messages between LaBaw and Lane and using cell phone triangulation, detectives believe they are able to prove Lane provided the pill that killed LaBaw. 

"Based on the timeline here between Lane and LaBaw, we felt that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the person that delivered the fatal fentanyl to her," said prosecutor Joe Marchesano.

King County warns of fentanyl powder circulating in the region

King County has issued a warning on fentanyl circulating in the area, now in the form of white powder.

The use of fentanyl can actually help investigators in these cases-- a high dose of fentanyl can kill quickly, so much so that the medical examiner can determine if fentanyl could be the cause of death even if other narcotics are in someone’s system. 

"There can be different substances in someone's system, so one of the things we need to do is show a direct link between drug delivery and the drug that caused the person's death," Marchesano said. 

It only takes one pill for a person to get a homicide-- they don’t have to deal in the dozens. 

Since 2019, 11 cases of suspected controlled substance homicide have been referred to the King County prosecutor’s office by police, but it’s only resulted in six charges.

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