BUFFALO, NY - The headlines as of late have been full of accounts of deaths attributed to heroin, particularly mixed with fentanyl.
The victims of what health and law enforcement officials are labeling as a growing epidemicacross the country come from all walks of life, with the common thread of addiction.
However, the latest deaths to have been officially attributed to the dangerous drugs in Western New York occurred in a most unlikely place.
"The spread of heroin abuse has even reached a place, ironically, where we put drug dealers for their crimes," said Drug Enforcement Administration Agent in Charge Michelle Spahn, who joined other members of law enforcement Wednesday to announce the indictment of individuals for a drug conspiracy, which they say lead to two inmate deaths at the Attica State Correctional Facility.
On the evening of December 5 the two inmates, housed in the same cell block, died within minutes of each other of drug overdoses.
"I believe the deaths were caused by pure fentanyl and we believe that's why they died so instantaneously," said Wyoming County District Attorney Donald O'Geen. "We're supposing that they (the inmates) thought they were taking just heroin and they ended up getting a full dose of fentanyl."
According to U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr., a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Elizabeth Camue Martinez, 33, of Buffalo, N.Y., and her husband, Andres Martinez, 28, an inmate at the Attica Correctional Facility, with possession with intent to distribute, and to distribute, heroin and marijuana.
Court papers obtained by WGRZ-TV indicate that Mrs. Martinez is alleged to have smuggled drugs into the prison between 9am and 3pm on December 5, when she visited her husband who is serving time for Assault, and just hours before the inmates died.
"Corrections officers do their best to try and prevent contraband from entering the prison," said O'Geen. "In this particular case I believe it occurred in the visitation room. They are husband and wife, they had a visit, and it (the passing of drugs) was hand to hand I believe."
It is alleged that once he received the drugs, Mr. Martinez either gave the drugs to the inmates who took them with fatal results, or passed them off to someone else who did.
"That's part of an ongoing investigation," said Hochul
"Unlike most investigations, we worked this in reverse," said NY State Police Captain Steve Nigrelli "We started at the dead bodies, and we worked backwards to find out, who muled drugs into the facility….and who was that source of supply."
To that end, federal prosecutors announced a separate indictment against Jerome J. Tallington, 25, of Sherwood Street Buffalo, who has been charged with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of heroin.
Tallington was arrested on December 8th, after he allegedly sold 3 grams of heroin to an undercover investigator near a Burger King restaurant on Amherst Street in Buffalo
A source close to the investigation tells 2 on Your Side that Tallington is believed to have been the source of the narcotics Mrs. Martinez allegedly smuggled into the prison, and which are believed to have caused the deaths of the two inmates.
The charges currently faced by all three defendants could net them each up to 20 years in prison if they are convicted.
However, they could face even stiffer penalties, if evidence gathered results in a prosecution for their actions having caused the deaths of the two inmates.
While such prosecutions are rare, they are not without precedent
This past summer, Peter Militello of Tonawanda became the first alleged drug dealer in Western New York charged with causing a death in connection with a fatal overdose, and, if convicted, could face life in prison.
Officials did not identify the two Attica inmates who died of drug overdoses.
However, they are two more, in a growing list of victims of what is being called an epidemic throughout the country, and here at home.
"And that, in a nutshell, represents the power of addiction to heroin," said Nigrelli. "They (users) know that there's a possibility they're going to die from that next injection…but yet they still do it."
"In these cases they are trusting their drug dealer," said O'Geen. "How safe is that? It's heroin roulette, and that's basically what people are doing here."
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalists Bob Mancuso and Dooley O'Rourke. Follow Dave on Twitter:@DaveMcKinley2