RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- Police have arrested three people in connection with the fentanyl overdose death of a 35-year-old Riverside man last November, and all three suspects have been charged with murder.
It's the latest case in which the Riverside County district attorney has filed murder charges against the alleged suppliers of fentanyl to those who later die from overdoses.
"It's dangerous," said Marilyn Cross, the mother of overdose victim Christopher Lucia. "They don't know what they're being given. They think they're going to take something to get high, or get out of pain, and then that's it. Their heart stops, they stop breathing and they're gone."
Cross said her son didn't use fentanyl to get high, but to deal with incredible pain that he'd been suffering for years.
"He had a shoulder injury and he had surgery, and he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis," Cross said. "He had swelling in all the joints and redness on the fingers."
But Cross said doctors eventually told him despite the pain, they would no longer prescribe him the medication he was using.
"He was on medication and being treated by a rheumatologist, and I was sitting in the office with him when the doctor said we can't prescribe anything for you anymore, and we've been told this particular drug is too addictive and we're cutting you off," she said.
Cross said that's when her son turned to fentanyl. Despite repeated pleas from his family, Lucia never entered rehab.
"Fentanyl became the cheaper drug you could find on the street," Cross said.
"We were asking him to get help, and he would say 'I know I need it, but it's just not the time right now.'"
Then, on Nov. 8, 2023, Cross got the news that her son had overdosed and had been taken to hospital.
"He had gone and purchased and used (fentanyl) and was driving home when he began saying he couldn't breathe, and stopped the car 25 houses down the street," Cross said. "He wasn't in a back alley; he wasn't in a hotel; he was in our neighborhood.
"He began to get stiff, so his girlfriend said she called 911. And they said pull him out of the car and start doing CPR."
Cross said by the time Lucia arrived at the hospital, paramedics had attempted to revive him multiple times. He was later declared brain dead.
"He said he trusted his source (of fentanyl). He trusted this person that what quality or what was in it was OK. But as we know it's not."
Riverside police began investigating Lucia's death shortly after he died. Police said their narcotics unit served several search warrants over the past few weeks, in both Riverside and Jurupa Valley. They arrested Jaclyn Sherman, 30, and Miguel Garcia, 37, as well as David Ray Mullins, 46, who they believed was the supplier of the fentanyl.
All three have been charged with murder.
Police say the suspects should have known how dangerous the drugs were because one of their own family members died from a fentanyl overdose.
Officer Ryan Railsback said at the time two of the suspects were arrested, they were wearing sweatshirts that had the family member's face and name on it.
"Along with our law enforcement partners, our office will continue to fight the fentanyl epidemic for the safety of our community," Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said.
"Those who provide fentanyl causing the death of another in Riverside County should expect to be prosecuted for homicide and be held fully accountable for the life they took with this deadly poison."
Cross said her son's legacy lives on through the face that his heart and lungs were donated. But she's hoping his story doesn't end there, as she hopes people who hear about his death will become more aware about the dangers of fentanyl.
"People are dying every day from it," she said. "They think they're taking something for pain, and then they don't ever come back from it."