Victims’ Rights Week in Merced exposes devastating impact of fentanyl on families, local community
‘Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous and deadly drugs
we have ever encountered, and it is killing those in our community.’
— Nicole Silveira,
Merced County District Attorney
District Attorney Nicole Silveira singled out the drug fentanyl as a “killer among us” during Merced County’s annual Victims’ Rights Ceremony at Courthouse Park on Tuesday.
“Many of you sitting here today have lost a loved one to unimaginable crimes — shootings, stabbings, violent attacks that have taken your loved ones from you,” Silveira told those in attendance, including family members and friends who hugged each other and shed tears.
“I am here to tell you that there is another killer among us today,” she continued. “Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous and deadly drugs we have ever encountered, and it is killing those in our community. For the past two years in a row, Merced County has tallied 22 deaths each year due to fentanyl overdoses alone. They are unprecedented numbers that are beginning to rival our murder rate.”
Silveira was joined by Merced County Supervisor Scott Silveira, DA Chief Investigator Anna Hazel and many members of the local law enforcement community in presenting Victims’ Rights Week and highlighting the Witness Assistance Program that supports survivors of deadly crimes.
“This year the theme was survivors’ voices, and the act of listening that is needed to elevate, engage and to effect change,” Hazel said.
As such, the event’s guest speaker was Christina Valenti, the mother of Robert Rojas, who lost his life at the age of 29 after he drank from a cough syrup bottle that unbeknownst to him, contained fentanyl.
“I’m here to save lives and bring awareness to fentanyl, and to let you know that it is happening,” Valenti said. “Talk to your kids, please, and warn them about what’s online — where they can purchase — because these predators are killing our kids.”
Valenti said she has created the Robert Rojas Foundation Worldwide in downtown Merced that offers confidential counseling and seminars on opiate awareness, as well as providing overdose medication Narcan/Naloxone, and Fentanyl test strips. She told the Times she is confident her efforts has helped save at least a dozen lives over the past year.
Dozens of other survivors attended Tuesday’s ceremony, including Lucy Garcia, the mother of Aaron Albert Jimenez who lost his life to violence in December. Marylene Riley, who leads her own annual victims’ march, was there to honor her two sons, Michael and Marlis, who were murdered by different killers in 2008 and 2009. And the family of Marlyne Vidales of Los Banos showed up with signs and memorial T-shirts. Vidales was 19 when the car she was driving in was struck by driver who later faced multiple felonies, including including gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and hit and run.
Family members of Tess Chanel Stover were overcome with emotion at the event, and brought to tears. The 18-year-old Stover lost her life after a fentanyl overdose in December. Her mother, Shanelle Stover, told the Times her daughter thought she was taking something other than a deadly drug.
Both Shanelle Stover and Christina Valenti told the Times that local authorities know who provided deadly doses of fentanyl to their loved ones, but they have yet to face serious consequences.
“We have cell phone communication and social media documentation,” Stover said about the case involving her daughter Tess. “They know who he is. If there are any charges to hold him accountable, I’m sure they will do it. But I have also learned through this process that it’s hard to prove these cases because you have to be able to prove that the person selling, distributing, and giving this over to the victim knew that it was fentanyl, and knew that it was deadly.”