A convicted drug dealer was ordered to spend more time in prison for delivering a fatal dose of fentanyl to a 51-year-old Richland woman at her home.
It’s the first time in more than a decade someone in Benton County was convicted of the crime of controlled substance homicide, which aims to punish people who deliver fatal doses of illegal drugs.
Blake McKinley Sickler, 30, pleaded guilty and was sentenced last week in the 2020 death of Darcei Renae Allstead.
Sickler is already serving a prison term for 10 previous felonies from three cases in 2020 when he pleaded guilty. Most of those convictions stemmed from breaking into the Hole in the Wall gun store on Deschutes Avenue and stealing several guns.
Then, for the controlled substance homicide, he faced a sentencing range of eight years and four months and 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to recommend the judge go with the minimum end of the range.
Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long told the Herald that Allstead’s family agreed to the sentence, but didn’t attend the Aug. 30 sentencing.
Superior Court Judge David Petersen followed the recommendation, sentencing him to eight years and four months in prison. The sentence will be served at the same time as his current sentence at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell and will extend his incarceration by about three years.
His anticipated release date is in 2029, according to the Washington Department of Corrections.
Since going to prison in 2021, Sickler graduated from intensive substance use treatment and earned a 3.9 GPA from Walla Walla Community College on classes, Defense Attorney Karla Kane said.
Text messages on Valentine’s Day 2020 show Sickler set up a time to meet Allstead at her home on Smith Avenue, according to court documents.
Sickler later sent another text to a friend, saying he’d dropped off two “blues” for Allstead. Blues is a slang term for blue-colored fentanyl pills. He claimed she was taking morphine at the time.
Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and hundreds of times stronger than street-level heroin, federal officials have said. In recent years, it has surpassed methamphetamine as the illegal drug responsible for most overdose deaths.
A little more than 15 minutes after the final text message, Allstead collapsed in the bathroom. Her partner heard something fall and found the door locked. After forcing it open, he found her unconscious and called 911.
She died the next day.
According to the nurse practitioner who signed the death certificate, acute fentanyl intoxication led to her heart stopping and a brain injury.
A blood test showed she had fentanyl and norfentanyl in her system. It was one of 20 fentanyl-caused deaths in Benton County in 2020.
Controlled substance homicide crime
The charge of controlled substance homicide is rarely filed in Washington state.
While the law has been on the books since 1987, the last time someone was charged with the offense in Benton County was 2011.
At the time, Brian Burt, a suspected drug dealer, was charged in two overdose deaths and he faced a third count in Franklin County.
He was accused of being in the same room as two fellow heroin addicts, Shirley E. Sanders, 44, and Derek Scott Bradley, 21, when they died. And he supplied a lethal dose of heroin to Liam D. Hermsen, 29.
Police and prosecutors at the time said he was under investigation for three more deaths.
In the end, he was sentenced to five years in prison.
Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant in 2018 said it can be a difficult charge to prove.
Not only do prosecutors need to show that the suspect supplied the drugs to the victim, but also they must prove that it was that particular dose that killed the person.
“We must believe that a reasonable jury would find sufficient evidence of each element beyond a reasonable doubt before we would file charges,” Sant said at the time.
Shortly after charges were filed against Sickler, Franklin County filed charges against Jacob Ehrhart, 35, in the connection with a Mesa man’s death.
His trial is currently scheduled for Nov. 15.
Federal prosecutors charged two men in 2018 in the Tri-Cities with selling a lethal dose of fentanyl to a man found dead in his apartment after investigators found the pills near his body.
Hector Medina, who was accused of moving significant quantities of drugs through the Tri-Cities, pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The man who gave the pills to his friend, Jubentino Soto, was sentenced to five years in a federal prison for conspiracy to distribute fentanyl.