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Two Sentenced in Detainee’s Fentanyl Death at North Florida Jail

Two detainees at Florida’s Okaloosa County Jail were sentenced to federal prison on April 5, 2024, for smuggling fentanyl into the lockup and providing it to a detainee, who overdosed and died on Christmas Eve 2022. Gary Chase, 30, and Joshua Gervais, 28, were sentenced to 30 and 14 years, respectively, after pleading guilty to distributing fentanyl that resulted in death of another. Each was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release.

Chase had been arrested on December 22, 2022, for allegedly menacing a woman with a gun. Gervais’ arrest six days earlier was for allegedly causing an auto accident that resulted in property damage and fleeing the scene. The office of county Sheriff Eric Aden also did not release the overdose victim’s name. However, a jail booking was recorded on December 23, 2022, for a probation violation by Nicholas Leeray Hughley, 22, and an obituary said he died the following day.

More troubling than the lack of details from the sheriff was that the death was one of five recorded at the 594-bed lockup in just over three months, including fatalities of other unnamed detainees on October 19 and December 19, 2022, as well as January 17 and 21, 2023. Even more troubling: One of those, Jose Raymond Sanchez’s death on January 17, 2023, was also blamed on a fatal fentanyl overdose—a month after the one attributed to contraband drugs traced back to Chase and Gervais.

“I’m just puzzled to the fact I just don’t know how those drugs are getting in there,” said Sanchez’s mother, Jackie Brazzell. “Was there going to be an arrest for the drugs that they found in Jose’s system and how did Jose get the drugs?”

The county called the deaths “unfortunate,” but noted that the jail has full-time nurses and healthcare professionals on staff, plus guards “continually take steps in suicide prevention and work tirelessly to eliminate illegal drug use and trafficking within the jail.”

The last victim was identified by a friend as Zac Jernigan, 42. “There are some rules and regulations that need to be changed if we have five people dying in six months,” said that friend, Paul Collingwood.

Acknowledging that the current lockup is overcrowded—and also facing floods and sinkholes—the county Board of Commissioners formed a team on January 16, 2024, to scout potential new jail locations, one month after the previously selected site was soundly rejected by neighboring landowners.


Sources: Foster Folly News, Get the Coast, WEAR, WKRG

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