The self-described “most hippie” city in Washington state has moved to ban people from using hard drugs in public after a five-year-old girl died from fentanyl poisoning.
On March 8, the police arrived at the home of Melissa Welch in Ferndale, Washington, after the 35-year-old called to report that her five-year-old daughter had died.
Upon arriving at the scene, officers found Olivia R. Doane dead with her mouth covered in foam — leading them to suspect a drug overdose. An autopsy later found that the five-year-old had died from acute fentanyl intoxication.
Investigators say that she likely ingested fentanyl sometime during the night, as surveillance footage showed Olivia appearing to be “happy and healthy” on March 7.
Welch — along with her current boyfriend, 32-year-old Cody Curtis Craig, and the child’s father, 33-year-old Michael Wayne Doane — were arrested almost immediately. All three of them were charged with first-degree murder with an aggravating factor, which means that they either knew or should have known that the little girl was in danger.
It appears that Welch and her boyfriend weren’t too affected by Olivia’s death, as they were seen selling fentanyl and other narcotics just a few days after the incident — and have received several drug-related charges from their actions.
Meanwhile, the Ferndale community is up in arms over the five-year-old’s death. While the city recently described itself as the “most hippie” city in Washington, it has now voted to ban any attempt to “inject, ingest or inhale” hard drugs within city limits.
This news comes after the state supreme court struck down a law that would have made simple possession a felony. Residents of Bellingham and Ferndale, even self-described liberals, have argued that the state’s permissive drug laws have caused overdoses to skyrocket. Data shows that Whatcom County, where Bellingham and Ferndale are located, has seen overdose deaths quadruple from 11 to 44 between 2018 and 2021.
Recent high-profile fentanyl-overdose deaths among Bellingham and Ferndale families have sparked calls for change.https://t.co/Q70ECWFQq7
— Cascadia Daily News (@CascadiaDaily) April 18, 2023
“I have lived here for 30 years, and no, I haven’t seen anything like this,” Bellingham Council Member Edwin Williams said. “I would characterize our city as one that is trying and willing to bend over backwards to help and provide people with programs to address either addiction or homelessness. But at this point — the combination of COVID, the pervasiveness of fentanyl and the state law being changed — pushed everything to the limit. It was just the perfect storm and at some point, something had to be done.”
Olivia is the third child to die of a fentanyl overdose in the past two months, following the deaths of 15-year-old Emily Halasz and 17-year-old Aaren Coleman. Halasz’s body was discovered at a homeless encampment near a Home Depot in Bellingham, while Coleman was found dead at his grandfather’s home.
Steve Satushek — a Washington state resident whose son, 29-year-old former athlete Mick Satushek, died from fentanyl on April 5 — spoke about the prevalence of drug use in his state and potential solutions.
“I would consider myself a progressive person, but there just are a lot of laws and things that I don’t think work properly,” Satushek said.
“I walk around downtown, and it’s just awful,” he added. “I went with my son to some of these homeless camps, and they’re just horrid, filthy places. I feel real strongly that we need to go back to what the New York mayor [Eric Adams] and [California] Gov. Gavin Newsom have said, which is to involuntarily commit people who need that help.”
“We are fairly affluent, but there was still nothing we could do to save our son because the system worked against him,” said Laurie Satushek, Mick’s mom. “We did ‘tough love’ and sent him to treatment centers. We did everything that we could to advocate for him. It was not enough and something has to change.”
The measure to make drug use a crime in Bellingham passed 5-2, but it will likely only have a limited impact — as the drug users will only be facing misdemeanor charges, if they are even charged criminally at all. Meanwhile, some residents have expressed a desire to give drug users “diversion rather than jail,” and it is likely that so-called “community courts” will be established to adjudicate drug cases in the area.
Kristina Michele Martens, an at-large member of the city council, gesticulated dramatically at the public meeting as she attacked the move to ban drug use — claiming that the “human beings who we have failed at every single level” will now be forced to relocate “to dimmer streets” because of the measure.