San Diego/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on June 12, 2024
Oceanside Drug Dealer Sentenced to 78 Months for Fatal Fentanyl Sale to U.S. Marine at Camp PendletonSource: Google Street View

An Oceanside drug dealer was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison following a plea agreement admitting to the sale of fentanyl that led to a U.S. Marine's fatal overdose. Jesse Sanders, 24, was convicted for distributing the narcotic that claimed the life of a 29-year-old active-duty U.S. Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California.

The Marine, whose identity remains undisclosed, was found unresponsive in his vehicle after an emergency call on January 2, 2022. In the plea, Sanders acknowledged that she provided the victim with a small bag containing the potent opioid and warned about its strength, underscoring the necessity to keep naloxone – an opioid overdose reversal medication – nearby. Despite the presence of a substance capable of reversing the grim march of an overdose, the Marine succumbed to the toxicity of fentanyl a short time following the encounter.

Sanders' history of drug-related criminal behavior was weighed during sentencing, highlighting a struggle with addiction and a prior conviction in San Diego Superior Court. Sanders was on summary probation at the time of this fatal transaction. The prosecution's argument underscored the knowledge Sanders possessed about the drug's dangers, as well as her disregard for the lethal risk posed to the users to whom she sold it.

The victim, awarded for his service with distinctions including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, was celebrated by his family as a beacon of patience and humor. His loss comes as a stark reminder of the perils service members face, both abroad and at home, where the battlefield may morph into local communities stalked by the specter of addiction. Special Agent in Charge Todd Battaglia of the NCIS Marine West Field Office emphasized, as per the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California, "The sentencing of Ms. Sanders for her role in the tragic death of a U.S. Marine should serve as a warning to criminals that NCIS and our partners will continue to work aggressively to bring to justice those who knowingly distribute lethal narcotics to service members."

The case against Sanders was carried out by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Wang and Special Asst. U.S. Attorney Arne Bussler, backed by the investigative efforts of the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service's Major Case Response Team. This instance is but one maneuver in a larger strategy by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to tackle the rampant distribution of illegal and often deadly drugs, with a particular lens focused on fentanyl given its devastating propensity for invoking overdose.