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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

One-year-old girl dies of fentanyl overdose in care of man who was already under police investigation for selling

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 23, 2021

A Spokane toddler died in early December after ingesting fentanyl. This photo shows what fentanyl-laced pills - called "Mexi-blues" - look like.   (Uncredited)
A Spokane toddler died in early December after ingesting fentanyl. This photo shows what fentanyl-laced pills - called "Mexi-blues" - look like.  (Uncredited)

A 17-month-old girl is dead from a fentanyl overdose in North Spokane and her father is suspected of being a dealer whose drugs ended up being ingested by the toddler.

The Spokane Police Department had known for months that Frank R. Marusic was selling blue fentanyl-laced pills from his residence, according to court documents. Investigators engineered drug buys involving Marusic on four occasions in September.

The highly potent counterfeit pills are sometimes known as “Mexi-blues” and often resemble oxycodone. They have been a scourge in the Inland Northwest, leading to overdoses and deaths.

Detectives in the Special Investigations Unit organized four undercover drug buys that occurred between Sept. 7 and Sept. 28, according to court documents.

On Dec. 4, two 911 calls alerted police to 704 E. Gordon Ave. for reports of a toddler who wasn’t breathing. Witnesses said the girl was unresponsive and her lips had turned blue.

Police searched the home three days later on Dec. 7, the same day the toddler was declared brain dead and taken off life support.

Police did not find any pills. They did find some drug paraphernalia and bottles of Narcan, which is used to counteract opioid overdoses, according to court documents.

Nine days later, investigators arrested Marusic on suspicion of dealing drugs. The Dec. 16 arrest included accusations that Marusic delivered drugs that resulted in the toddler’s death.

A Spokane County District Court judge set his bond at $1 million.

Spokane Police Cpl. Nick Briggs said in an interview he could not offer more details about Marusic’s case, but noted it is “not abnormal” for undercover drug investigations to span several weeks or months before an arrest.

Drug investigations “are a lengthy, lengthy process,” Briggs said, and take resources the department sometimes has to stretch in order to cover the other ongoing investigations in the city.

“We’ve got an obligation to make sure we’re arresting the right person,” Briggs said. “We are always going to adhere to the law and make sure when we bring a case forward we’ve completed it to the best of our ability.”

Briggs said many cases alleging drug dealing don’t stick because substantial evidence is needed for conviction.

“The notion that if Mr. Marusic was arrested after the first drug buy, he would have been in jail, that’s just not true,” Briggs said. “If their only charge is controlled substance, the numbers just don’t support that.”

On Dec. 4, Marusic’s roommate told police that Marusic said he thought the girl may have “got a hold of something,” according to court documents. The roommate told police she had seen a container of blue pills in the house kept in what resembled “the little pop can looking kind of container.”

She told police Marusic handed her Narcan nasal spray to administer to the toddler before they went to Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.

The roommate also said that the girl was living with her grandparents and only made weekend visits to the home on Gordon Avenue.

A doctor at Sacred Heart told police neither of the toddler’s parents explained why she wasn’t breathing, according to court documents.

The Spokane County Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy on Dec. 8 and ruled the toddler’s death was caused by a fentanyl overdose.

A fatal amount of fentanyl can fit on the tip of a pencil. The substance is between 80 and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

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