‘Very, very dangerous’ batch of drugs has killed six local residents this week; police urge people to heed caution

A scourge of overdose deaths related to a “bad batch” of what is believed to be fentanyl-laced cocaine has led to six overdose deaths in Southold and Shelter Island towns this week, a string of tragic deaths unlike any Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said his town has seen before.

In the past seven days, there have been eight drug overdose cases in the two towns with all but one occurring in Southold Town. Four of the six deaths occurred on Friday alone.

Police Chief Martin Flatley said he has brought in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office to assist his detectives as they gather evidence.

He said cocaine laced with fentanyl is suspected in the overdoses and deaths. The victims are concentrated throughout Southold Town, with one victim on Shelter Island.

“They are [mostly] under 32 years of age, and some live with their family members,” Chief Flatley said.

The chief said the horror began seven days ago with the overdose of a 69-year-old man in Mattituck who was given Narcan by officers and survived. The chief said that night a 27-year-old male in Southold overdosed and died, and this was followed by a 28-year-old male from Southold. Of the four deaths on Friday, one was in Greenport Village, one was in East Marion, a third in Southold and the fourth on Shelter Island. A second survivor suffered an overdose in the King Kullen parking lot in Cutchogue and was treated with three doses of Narcan.

“It was one after another,” the chief said. “These are people who fly under the radar. Some live with their families and family members knew there was a problem.”

As for the likely source, the chief said it “reached the East End and it could be anywhere.”

“We are interviewing family members – who did this person talk to? We are taking cell phones and looking for common calls,” he said. “We spent until 2 this morning doing that, but thankfully no deaths overnight.”

As of Saturday morning, police did not have enough evidence to make an arrest, though the district attorney’s office has assisted with search warrants, the chief said.

In Riverhead Town, Police Chief David Hegermiller said they are aware of the situation but have not yet seen a spike in overdoses in town. “Knock wood,” he said. 

He said it’s important to get the word out about such a tragic occurrence.

In a press release Saturday afternoon, The Southold Town police Department warned: “We collectively urge that anyone who has purchased cocaine, or other narcotics, recently on the North Fork or Shelter Island, or know of a family member or friend that has purchased, safely dispose of these potentially lethal products.”

The chief said he wants the public to know there is toxic cocaine on the North Fork. Asked if the death toll will rise, he said he hoped not.

“We want people who are users to know this is very, very dangerous,” he said.

“There is something very bad out there,” he added. “Very bad. We are working very hard to find out where this is coming from. So many victims live with family members. A young man who died yesterday. His whole family was in the house.

“The message is this: We want people to know these drugs are here and they are tainted and it is killing people.”

It’s the second time in the past 15 months police have issued an urgent warning related to fentanyl-laced cocaine resulting in overdoses. District Attorney Timothy Sini issued a public safety alert in May 2020 after a series of overdoses in Riverhead Town that resulted in at least one fatality.

That investigation led to at least one arrest.

In March 2019, Mr. Sini announced two men were charged with manslaughter for allegedly supplying heroin cut with fentanyl to a Riverhead man who fatally overdosed six months earlier. It was only the third time in Suffolk County history that manslaughter charges were brought against drug dealers in connection with a fatal overdose. It was part of an increased effort from law enforcement to target drug dealers in cases of fatal overdoses.

One suspect in that case, Bryan Hale of Flanders, pleaded guilty to a top charge of second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 4 to 6 years in prison. A Greenport man also charged with manslaughter, Lashawn Lawrence, was acquitted of that top charge at trial and instead was sentenced to 2 to 4 years in prison on a lesser charge of fourth-degree conspiracy. The sentencing was handed down in October 2019.

In a separate fatal overdose case, a Flanders man in July 2019 was arraigned on a 10-count indictment for alleged drug sales that led to the death of a 27-year-old East Quogue woman. A mix of fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone and cocaine was cited in that case. Justin Adamo was later sentenced to a year in jail.