Nassau County mother, 17, jailed in baby’s fentanyl death

Published on July 12, 2023 at 4:23 pm

A 17-year-old mother was charged Wednesday with aggravated manslaughter after her 9-month-old son died of fentanyl poisoning — an incident the sheriff called “terrible, sad and extremely tragic,” but one that is becoming more common.

Holding up a photo of the baby’s bottle with Mickey Mouse imprinted on it, Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said a lethal amount of fentanyl was mixed in the baby’s formula in late June.

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When the mother gave her son the bottle, she added what she thought was cocaine to get him to go to sleep, Leeper said. A medical examiner’s report showed she was mistaken.

“It was actually fentanyl,” Leeper said during a news conference. “She laid him down in his crib to go to sleep, and he never woke up. Now who does that? What mother could do that? That’s not normal. That is sick. It is beyond my imagination why a mother would do that to her child.”

Deputies who were called out to the home found the baby on the living room floor, not breathing, Leeper said. The baby was taken to Baptist Medical Center Nassau and pronounced dead. His mother initially said she did not know what had happened, Leeper said.

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“She put the baby to sleep and just couldn’t wake him up,” Leeper said, quoting the mother.

“Babies are the most vulnerable among us,” Leeper said. “They are solely dependent on someone else for all of their needs. … But unfortunately, some babies are born to individuals who have no business in being a parent. Actually, this little boy’s mother is only a child herself. She’s 17.”

Investigation showed that the mother decided to take a nap because she was tired and gave the baby a bottle before putting him in a crib, Leeper said. After the medical examiner’s report came in Tuesday, investigators called in the mother. Leeper said the teen, whom he did not identify, changed her story “several times,” finally stating that she added something to the formula that she found in a pill bottle in the bathroom, Leeper said.

She thought it was cocaine, the sheriff said, holding up another formula bottle and empty pill container to demonstrate.

 Sheriff Bill Leeper holds up a baby formula bottle and empty pill container as he discussed how investigators believe the 9-month-old baby died on June 26th in a Callahan home.

“The cause of death was ruled as fentanyl overdose,” Leeper said. “That report also stated that 3 nanograms per milliliter of blood (of fentanyl) would kill a normal person like me, and that the child had about 10 times the amount that would kill a person. The amount that he had in his system would kill approximately 10 people. … It appears to be her decision, and her decision alone.”

Investigators did find a bag that field-tested positive for fentanyl at the home after her boyfriend retrieved it, the arrest report said. It will be sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for further testing.

The Florida Department of Children and Families says the child’s death is the only one in Nassau County so far this year.

Leeper called fentanyl “by far” one of the most dangerous drugs in the country, 50 times more potent than heroin. A study in January by the nonprofit Families Against Fentanyl shows that fentanyl poisoning was 2021’s leading cause of death among Americans ages 18 to 45.

The study, “Changing Faces of Fentanyl Deaths,” also stated that fentanyl deaths among children are rising faster than for any other age group. Deaths among children ages 1 to 4 more than tripled between 2019 and 2021.

Deaths increased four fold among infants less than 1 and among children ages 5 to 14, the study said. Since 2015, deaths among infants increased nearly 10 fold; deaths among children ages 1 to 14 increased 15 fold.

A 2021 report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement looks at reported deaths in the state and what caused them. The report showed that of 36,523 deaths that Florida’s medical examiners investigated in 2021, toxicology results determined that drugs were present in 16,138 of them.

The drugs that caused the most deaths were fentanyl (5,791), followed by cocaine (2,677), methamphetamine (2,101), ethyl alcohol (1,478) and fentanyl analogs (1,152), the FDLE report said. Deaths caused by fentanyl increased 9% between 2020 and 2021(489 more), the FDLE survey said. The data also indicates that at least 92% of fentanyl occurrences were illicitly obtained.

The boy’s death in Nassau County is the latest of a number in Florida due to fentanyl exposure.

The most recent was May 31, when Nicholas and Carissa Alexander were arrested in their Sarasota home after their 8-month-old child was found face-down on a couch while under the care of the mother, the Sheriff’s Office reported. Investigation showed that the girl had not been checked on for seven hours. An autopsy showed lethal amounts of fentanyl in her system, the Sheriff’s Office said.

In March, a 32-year-old Jacksonville mother was arrested on a manslaughter charge after the death of her 20-month-old girl Dec. 20 in a home on East 14th Street, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office reported. The Medical Examiner’s Office determined the death of Carlida Shanav Miller’s child was accidental due to acute fentanyl intoxication. She remains in the Duval County jail on $550,000 bond, according to records.

In the Callahan death, Leeper said the teenage mother should have known that her action “was likely to cause death or great bodily injury” to her child, hence the manslaughter charge. He added that the teen may be pregnant again.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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