A New York City daycare operator and her tenant have been charged with depraved indifference murder after police said a one-year-old boy died of a suspected fentanyl overdose on the weekend.
Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Brito, 41, are both facing murder charges as well as drug possession charges in connection with the death of Nicholas Dominici, who was at the Divino Nino Daycare in the Bronx.
According to the complaint, three other children—two two-year-old boys and an eight-month old girl were also “poisoned by exposure” to fentanyl. The complaint said one kilogram of fentanyl was found inside a hallway closet in the daycare along with a kilogram press device, used to package drugs. An additional press was allegedly found in Brito’s room.
Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said three of the children were unresponsive at the daycare and were given naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, when authorities were called to the scene. Earlier in the day, he said, another two-year-old boy was “acting lethargic and unresponsive” after coming home from the daycare and was given naloxone at the hospital.
Only the girl’s urine test has come back positive for fentanyl so far; toxicology reports for the three boys are still being processed. New York police said the case is still under investigation. Dominici’s official cause of death hasn’t been released.
“My heart is broken,” Dominici’s father Otoniel Feliz told the New York Daily News. “I have no words to express how I’m feeling now. Nobody expects to send your kids to a safe place … and next you have a phone call saying ‘Your child has died.’ Every time I return home, he’s waiting for me at the door. It’s hard to come home yesterday and don’t see him over there.”
While the situation is very tragic, both Mayor Eric Adams and Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, repeated incorrect information about how people can overdose on fentanyl, according to experts.
“A small child—not someone we would think would be at risk of interacting with opioids—has come into contact with a powerful substance which can through either inhalation, ingestion or in touching of the skin, intoxicate the recipient,” said Vasan.
Adams said the situation is “a real wake‑up call for individuals who have opioids or fentanyl in their homes. The mere contact is deadly for an adult and it’s extremely deadly for a child.”
However, a person cannot overdose from simply touching fentanyl, experts say. It has to be consumed.
“To prevent future tragedies we need to better inform people about drugs, including how to prevent and treat overdoses. Small children are at risk for putting things in their mouths and ingesting them. Skin contact with illicit fentanyl powder is not a risk of overdose nor is breathing air near it, and to continue pushing that narrative instead of accurate information does a disservice to everyone,” said Dr. Ryan Marino, medical director of toxicology and addiction medicine at University Hospitals in Cleveland.
Mendez’s lawyer Andres Aranda told CBS News he doesn’t believe she was “involved in what happened.”
“She just didn’t know. She rented a room to somebody, and she didn’t know what was going on,” he said.
Leo Beletsky, a Northeastern University professor of law and health sciences, told VICE News the murder charges being faced by the defendants is unusual.
“If what police allege is true and the daycare operators were using the very same premises to press illicit fentanyl… that certainly shows egregious disregard for the welfare of the children under their care,” he said. “There are numerous legal tools to hold people commensurate with such actions. A murder charge is not.”
Mendez and Brito are due back in court on Sept 21 and Sept 22, respectively.
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