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Family of Commerce City victim gave tearful testimony during fentanyl bill debate

The sister of Karina Rodriguez spoke during a debate on a fentanyl bill at the Colorado State House. The bill is meant to tighten penalties for fentanyl dealers.

DENVER — Lawmakers at the State House are debating a bill that would add stronger penalties for fentanyl dealers, education, and more funding for treatment.

Testimony lasted for 13 hours in the House Judiciary committee where hundreds were signed up to talk.

As written, the bill increases penalties for dealing fentanyl, creates an education campaign, and provides funding for treatment. What it does not do is make it a felony to simply possess less than four grams of fentanyl.

Among those who spoke were Meleiah Rodriguez and Feliz Sanchez-Garcia, the sisters of Karina Rodriguez.

“My sister was a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. She worked hard and she loved hard and she lit up any room that she walked into,” said Sanchez-Garcia.

RELATED: House judiciary panel debates fentanyl bill

Karina was one of the five people who died in a Commerce City apartment on Feb. 19 of a suspected fentanyl overdose. She was found with friends, and her boyfriend, Sabas Marquez. An adult and baby were also found alive in the apartment. Officials said those inside were snorting cocaine, laced with fentanyl.

“The night she died she was with friends and family in her own home and had no intention of taking the fentanyl that took her life. Fentanyl was deceptively disguised as another substance, cocaine. And she and her friends paid for this deception with their lives,” Sanchez-Garcia said.

Meleiah said their family wasn’t notified of her death until 2 p.m. on Feb. 20. At that moment, they started making calls, but no one could a hold of Karina. It was the mother of Sabas Marquez who informed them.

“My family is now completely broken, nothing will ever be the same,” she said.

These sisters call Karina’s death, murder for profit because Karina unknowingly ingested fentanyl that was distributed by a dealer.

Right now, it is not a felony in the state of Colorado to possess less than four grams of fentanyl. That was part of the big debate during the session focusing on whether it should be a felony to possess any amount of fentanyl.

A few lawmakers, family members, and district attorneys pushed back on that idea, fearing it could be too harsh of a punishment for someone who didn't know they were taking fentanyl-like Karina.

“People are being killed without any idea of what’s happening to them. And it happened to my sister and I’ve spent countless nights haunted thinking of her last moments and whether she knew what was happening to her. Those who purchase and use fentanyl knowingly understand the risk of overdose they are taking. While those who are unknowingly being poisoned with fentanyl are effectively being murdered,” Sanchez-Garcia said.

RELATED: Nearly 60,000 fentanyl pills seized in Adams County

Democratic State Rep. Leslie Herrod wants to ensure those who survive fentanyl poisoning aren't just thrown into jail but also given the resources and education needed.

“She should still be here and because of the irresponsible and deceptive drug dealer, we as her family are left to pick up the pieces and care for her children as closely as we would’ve expected her to. There’s no reason something as deadly as fentanyl should be on our streets it continues to devastate lives and destroy families,” Sanchez-Garcia said.

The family is now caring for Karina’s soon-to-be 12-year-old boy and 6-month-old daughter. Toxicology results for the five are still pending.

The house judiciary committee is expected to take up the amendment phase of the bill at 1:30 Wednesday afternoon before it moves forward.

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