DENVER — Fentanyl continues to abruptly disrupt the lives of countless coloradans. Those who have witnessed it first-hand plead for the state to do better.
On Thursday, a two-day summit, the first of its kind, focused on finding solutions to the state’s fentanyl crisis, was held in downtown Denver.
Law enforcement, district attorneys, and elected leaders from across the state are welcome. Those who have lost loved ones to fentanyl were also invited to speak on a panel at the summit. However, the summit is closed to the press and public.
The event follows the Colorado State Patrol’s announcement that this year fentanyl seizures in the state have already exceeded those of 2021.
“I mean, for me, it’s probably the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” Chelsea Ramirez said. “My best friend, the person I woke up with every morning, shared every meal, had four kids with…I’ll never see her again.”
Ramirez’s husband, Igancio “Nacho” Ramirez, was killed by a counterfeit pill containing fentanyl in August 2021. The father-of-four believed he was taking oxycodone to relieve his back pain.
Denver7 was the first to speak with Chelsea Ramirez as she publicly pleads for a lawsuit in her husband’s case.
“Our neighbours [camera] had a direct view and saw it all,” she said in an April interview with Denver7. “We gave video footage, we gave messages. [The police] took copies of my husband’s phone. We gave them everything, and we did everything except take that person to the police station.”
Now, Ramirez is taking his plea to the broader law enforcement community in the state.
“We need communication. We need more compassion when it comes to how law enforcement speaks to us,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy – having to relive that pain over and over again, not just every day, but every moment of every day.”
Ramirez knows she is not alone in her grief. Coco Peterson was another speaker on the panel. Peterson’s sister, Kristina Kaufmann, died of fentanyl poisoning in 2019 at age 37.
Like Nacho Ramirez, Peterson says his sister had no idea she was ingesting fentanyl.
“She was working in the financial world for a well-known company, closing million-dollar deals just a week or two before her death,” Peterson said. “She loved her daughter, they had a great relationship. She had a family that cared about her. It was so unexpected and out of the blue. She had taken a pill that she thought was oxycodone and that ended up being fentanyl.”
Neither Peterson nor Ramirez have been prosecuted in their loved one’s case.
Peterson acknowledges that time is no longer on his side when it comes to the scale of justice.
“It was only when I testified in the House and the Senate [for House Bill 22-1326] that District Attorney John Kellner contacted me and said, “I wasn’t there then, but I am now, and it looks like this should have been dealt with. investigation,” she said.
Peterson hopes law enforcement, district attorneys and elected officials will prioritize accountability for other families.
“It’s nice to have someone who communicates with you, and I think that’s all we ask for when we lose someone is to have a compassionate person who stands up for us,” said she declared.
In the case of Nacho Ramirez, Greeley detectives were tasked with the investigation. Denver7 contacted the Greeley Police Department and the Weld County District Attorney’s Office Thursday for an update on the case. Neither agency has provided information at the time of publication.
“I had contacted our investigator again, and unfortunately he told me that the case was at the prosecutor’s office and that a third party needed to get involved,” Ramirez said. “And from what I know from the Weld County District Attorney’s Office, they don’t have it either. So we’re at a standstill right now.”
Both Ramirez and Peterson expressed their gratitude to 17th Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason, who serves Adams and Broomfield counties. Mason moderated the panel between family members and law enforcement.
Last February, in Mason’s neighborhood, five people were found dead in a single apartment from suspected fentanyl poisonings.
“I was at the scene that night. I saw the bodies lying in that apartment,” Mason said. “It’s an image I will never forget.”
“These family members have been through hell, and their emotional journey is one that has been impacted by the criminal justice system and how they have been treated in the criminal justice system. We need to learn the lessons of them so that we can all do better moving forward.”
According to information provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), 905 Coloradans died in 2021 after ingesting fentanyl, a 68% increase from the previous year.