By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
Opiod drug use is continually rising. With the introduction of fentanyl and car fentanyl to the local drug scene, three deaths in the area have been attributed to the dangerous drug . There have also been several historic busts in the Tri County area from the Sixteenth Judicial Drug Task Force (DTF).
With an ongoing drug epidemic that has changed its course to include the deadly drug, Izard County has obtained grants to fund additional officers. As a result they have made numerous arrests.
Most recently, LaShaun Starbuck, 20, of Cave City was charged with manslaughter in a fentanyl related death from Oct. 2021.
According to the Probable Cause Affidavit filed in Sharp County Circuit Court, Starbuck brought a deceased female, later identified as 18 year old Alyssa Hale, to the White River Medical Center’s Emergency room in the early morning hours of Oct. 28, leaving shortly after his arrival.
When interviewed by Sharp County Sheriff’s Department investigators, Starbuck initially told the officers Hale was dumped in his front entryway by an unknown person. After he granted officers permission to inspect his cell phone, it was quickly discovered Starbuck was not being truthful with officers.
Officers secured the residence with the permission to search given by the homeowner, Justin Frazier, the person whom Starbuck had been paroled to live with.
The 16th Judicial Drug Task Force assisted officers due to the likelihood of Hale’s death would be attributed to “pressed pills” obtained the day of her death.
DTF investigators Cody Lee and Jimmy Logan conducted follow up interviews with individuals who were present the night before she died. All of witnesses stated Hale appeared normal when she was taken to Starbuck’s home. Later in the morning when some of those same individuals were at the residence, only one stated he may have seen her.
The residence was dark, and according Starbuck, Hale was covered at that time. The investigators executed search warrants on Starbuck’s phone and social media apps. Messages obtained showed that Starbuck was regularly involved in the sale and distribution of pills. Starbuck admitted that he Hale took pills the night before her death. This fact was confirmed during Starbuck’s booking into the Sharp County Jail following a urinalysis that showed fentanyl present in his system.
Hale’s toxicology from the Medical Examiner’s office also showed the presence of fentanyl, and listed fentanyl toxicity as the cause of death.
In the early morning hours of October 28, 2021 Hale was given pills by LaShaun Starbuck that she believed to be Percocets. The fentanyl pills were made to look like Percocets.
The first large fentanyl bust happened in Fulton County. Michael Kelly, 32, of Franklin was arrested with 105 grams of fentanyl March 31, 2021 by deputies with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department.
Michael David “Slick” Mullins, 64, of Highland was arrested in December along with Richard Kyle Cohn, 34, of Calico Rock; Andrew Mark Martin, 42, of Couch, Mo.; Ricky Joe Cluck, 64, of Hardy; Michael Kelly, 32, of Franklin and Jamey D. Roof, 56, of Mountain Home. Kelly was arrested again for the same charges as he incurred in March,
Officers learned that Mullins had made transactions with the deceased on the day he died. The Arkansas State Crime Laboratory later ruled the man’s death as overdose as result of the fentanyl provided by Mullins. The federal warrants served on Dec. 14 on the seven men were for Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute Fentanyl. Mullins was also charged with Distribution that Caused Death.
This was the first death in which the law enforcement were able to directly link a dealer to the death of a person.
DTF is working together with area sheriff’s departments to help curtail the sale and distribution of fentanyl that causes so many deaths.