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Overdose suspected in several Turlock deaths
Johnathan Montgomery
A car wash fundraiser will start at 8 a.m. Saturday at 101 N. Tully Road to help pay for funeral expenses for Johnathan Montgomery, who died from a fatal overdose, one of many recently in Turlock (Photo contributed).

Within the last month Turlock has seen an increase in overdoses, at least three of which were fatal.

Turlock Police Sgt. Michael Parmley said the department has seen a recent increase in suspected overdose deaths, but couldn’t say if fentanyl was the cause of the overdoses.

“We have to wait on toxicology results to make that determination,” Parmley said.

Liz Padilla, the founder and director of the non-profit organization Helping Hands Ministry, said she knew some of the individuals who overdosed and was told by their companions and friends that they had taken fentanyl.

Padilla said she actually found one woman who had overdosed.

“I called 911 and luckily they were able to revive her,” Padilla said. “They said another couple minutes and she would have been dead.”

In 2020, Stanislaus County recorded 132 total deaths from overdose, which is an increase of 59 percent from 2019, according to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one driver of the increase in overdose deaths are counterfeit pills that contain fentanyl. Fentanyl is a highly potent painkiller, 100 times stronger than morphine and 150 times stronger than oxycodone. Fentanyl can be diluted with cutting agents to create the counterfeits, which mimic the effect of oxycodone but are much cheaper to buy on the street than oxycodone alone.

“Unscrupulous drug dealers knowingly sell fentanyl, or other drugs laced with fentanyl, for a cheaper high. Their actions are killing people in our community," said Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse.

Individuals selling such counterfeit pills could face even harsher consequences in the legal system.

“We will pursue criminal charges, up to and including murder, for those who sell such poison to others," said Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager.

Padilla said Helping Hands Ministry is fundraising to give a burial for some of the unsheltered individuals who died recently from overdoses.

One of those individuals is Johnathan Montgomery, who Padilla had gotten to know well over the years and grown close to.

“He had such a hard life, but he was still such a vibrant person,” Padilla said. “He always helped me out and others. He did the best he could.”

A car wash fundraiser will start at 8 a.m. Saturday at 101 N. Tully Road. It will also be held on Sunday.