Monday, March 20, 2023
March 20, 2023

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Sammamish couple charged with manslaughter in toddler’s fentanyl death


SEATTLE — A Sammamish couple who allegedly left fentanyl pills on a nightstand within reach of their toddler were arrested Friday, six months after their daughter died from an overdose, according to King County prosecutors.

Though fentanyl was immediately suspected as being involved in the 21-month-old girl’s July death, a toxicology report concluding she had very high levels of fentanyl and methamphetamine in her blood wasn’t completed until earlier this month, according to criminal charges filed Thursday against her parents.

Robert Ross, 38, and Mirela “Kate” Kokoszka, 32, have each been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of their daughter, who’s identified in charging documents by her initials, CJR. The couple are also charged with violating the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, accused of selling fentanyl pills — commonly known as “blues” — out of their house west of Pine Lake.

The filing of charges allowed prosecutors to request arrest warrants for Ross and Kokoszka, who were taken into custody hours apart Friday and booked into the King County Jail. Each is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail, records show.

Ross has prior felony convictions for burglary, theft, taking a motor vehicle without permission and possession of a stolen vehicle; Kokoszka does not have any prior convictions, according to prosecutors.

Fentanyl, either alone or in combination with other illegal narcotics, was involved in nearly 700 overdose deaths in King County last year, representing a 179% increase over the 385 fentanyl-involved deaths recorded by the Medical Examiner’s Office in 2021.

The trend, which shows no signs of slowing, prompted the Metropolitan King County Council in July to declare fentanyl a public health crisis, tasking Public Health — Seattle & King County with identifying strategies and recommendations to amplify efforts to reduce fentanyl-related deaths.

The drug is a synthetic opioid that’s up to 100 times more potent than morphine and is largely seen as the driver of an overdose crisis deadlier than any the U.S. has ever seen, The Associated Press reported. In 2021, overdoses from all drugs claimed more than 100,000 lives nationwide for the first time, and 2022 overdose deaths remained at nearly the same level.

Opioids — a category that includes fentanyl, heroin and prescription drugs like OxyContin — have been involved in at least 48 overdose deaths so far this year in King County, though another 37 deaths are still pending toxicology testing as of Friday. Only five overdose deaths have been attributed to drugs other than opioids, stimulants (such as meth and cocaine), or both.

The vast majority of the fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin sold in King County is manufactured in clandestine labs by Mexican drug cartels, then smuggled across the U.S. southern border and distributed up the Interstate 5 corridor.

In the manslaughter case against Ross and Kokoszka, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Celia Lee wrote that sheriff’s deputies who responded to the couple’s house July 29 saw loose blue pills and partially burnt pills in their nightstand’s open drawer — only inches from the bed where their daughter was found dead.

Three loose fentanyl pills “were found in the drawer next to candy, easily in reach of this mobile and active little girl,” Lee wrote. She noted a witness later told police that a week before the toddler died, Kokoszka had found her “playing with and throwing M30 fentanyl pills onto the bedroom floor.”

After serving a warrant on the house in the 2200 block of 212th Avenue Southeast, investigators found 497 fentanyl pills in five baggies, plus lighters, precut pieces of tinfoil used to heat and smoke the pills, and other paraphernalia, the charges say.

“Both of the defendants were aware of the danger fentanyl posed to their child, and recklessly left loose pills lying next to candy, storing hundreds of these deadly fentanyl pills in their bedroom where their active and healthy toddler lived and slept,” Lee wrote in charging papers.

She added: “Many witnesses corroborated that Ross and Kokoszka had been actively dealing fentanyl out of their Sammamish residence.”

Ross and the couple’s roommate both called 911 just after 2 a.m. on the day the toddler died, reporting she wasn’t breathing and that the parents were attempting CPR, according to the charges. Medics also tried to save the young girl, but stopped their efforts 45 minutes after they arrived.

King County sheriff’s detectives were called to investigate the death, as the city of Sammamish contracts with the agency for police services.

Investigators learned the toddler was put to bed the night before after a normal day but had woken up, likely due to hot weather, and was fed and changed before she fell back asleep around 1 a.m. When Kokoszka went to check on her daughter an hour later, she was unresponsive and face down on the bed, the charges say.

Kokoszka scooped her daughter from the bed and ran with her into the living room, yelling for someone to call 911.

Fluid stains and “small blue chunks” of what appeared to be fentanyl pills were later found across pillows and a blanket at the top of the bed, according to the charges, and a partially dissolved pill reportedly fell from the girl’s mouth or clothing when she was taken from the bed.

An autopsy found she had swelling in her lungs and brain — both signs of a possible drug overdose — but was otherwise healthy, say the charges. Preliminary tests on her blood and urine came back positive for fentanyl, as did a test of the loose pills from the nightstand, the charges say.

The lead detective wrote in charging documents that Ross told him he drove to Seattle and bought 600 fentanyl pills from people “who live in a tent” near Yesler Terrace the day before his daughter died. Ross took one bag of pills and gave the rest to Kokoszka to “put in her sock drawer or something,” the charges say.

Kokoszka’s fingerprints were found on empty baggies and pieces of burnt tinfoil from the nightstand, and a couple of friends told investigators they had previously seen Kokoszka smoke fentanyl in bed with her daughter present, say the charges.

Detectives also learned that footage from a home security camera set up near the bed had been deleted seven hours after the toddler died and while deputies and detectives were still at the house, according to the charges.

One friend of the couple told investigators that everyone in their friend group — including Ross and Kokoszka — is addicted to fentanyl and know the pills “are not made in a laboratory by scientists and are not pharmaceutical grade but rather are made illegally in Mexico,” the lead detective wrote in charging papers.

When fentanyl is used in a medical setting, the average blood concentration in an adult who receives a standard dose is 2.1 nanograms per milliliter, the charges say. The toddler’s toxicology report showed she had 17 nanograms of fentanyl and 11 nanograms of methamphetamine per milliliter of blood, which would be considered a “high level” of drugs for an adult, according to the charges.