A Centralia woman is facing homicide charges for allegedly selling heroin to a man the day before he died of an overdose.
The 30-year-old man was found dead at his parents’ residence in Chehalis on Aug. 4, 2020. Autopsy analysis confirmed that he died of acute heroin intoxication, and texts found on his cellphone showed that the victim had planned to meet with Latasha Joyce Burleson after he had repeatedly asked to buy “a 20” from her.
Detectives with the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET) spoke to Burleson during a traffic stop on Sept. 22. She allegedly identified screenshots of Facebook messages between her and the victim and admitted to selling the victim heroin on the night in question, according to court documents.
She was officially charged with controlled substances homicide, a Class B felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000, on Jan. 25. She was summoned to her preliminary appearance on Feb. 24, where Judge J. Andrew Toynbee approved the state’s request for a $25,000 unsecured bail, meaning that she remains out of custody and does not pay any of the bail amount unless she misses a court date, at which point she would be held liable for the full amount.
“The state is well aware of Ms. Burleson, and quite frankly there are some circumstances of this case and its charging that I don’t want to get into right now, but we know where she’s going to be,” Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher. “We have no doubts that she’ll appear in court as ordered.”
She is scheduled for an arraignment hearing on March 11.
Burleson is the second Lewis County defendant to have been charged with controlled substances homicide this year and is one of three active cases in Lewis County Superior Court. Joshua R. Jacobs, of Mossyrock, was charged in January for allegedly selling fentanyl to a woman the day before she died of acute fentanyl poisoning in November 2020, and Daniel L. Patnode, of Packwood, was charged in December 2019 for his alleged connection to a death by acute heroin and fentanyl intoxication that occurred in February 2019.
Both Jacobs and Patnode have pleaded not-guilty to all charges in their respective cases and are awaiting trial. Jacobs has a jury trial scheduled for June 7 and Patnode has a jury trial scheduled for May 3.
The Lewis County Coroner’s Office reported earlier this year that deaths due to overdose dramatically increased in 2020 from the year prior, from five deaths in 2019 up to 30 in 2020.
Of those he investigated, Coroner Warren McLeod reported that methamphetamine was the leading cause of overdose, followed by ingestion of fentanyl, which was the confirmed cause of four deaths in 2020.
“Anytime there is an overdose death, it’s going to be pretty rare where there’s not at least the potential of controlled substance homicide,” said Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer. “The reason I say that is because they got the drugs from somewhere.”
The only time an overdose death couldn’t possibly lead to a controlled substances homicide charge would be if the drugs in question were lawfully prescribed, or stolen by the victim.
If the victim purchased the drugs they overdosed on from a person who was selling them illegally, then that person is legally liable for the victim’s death.
“Oftentimes, the bigger question is where did they get the drugs. If we can confirm where they got the drugs from, we’re looking at a chargeable controlled substances homicide,” said Meyer, adding that Lewis County has seen an increase in chargeable controlled substance homicides since JNET was created due to JNET’s investigations into local drug trafficking and distribution.