Two Seattle-area men have been charged with federal drug crimes in connection to the distribution of fentanyl-laced pills that led to the overdose death of a U.S. sailor aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson last month, officials confirmed this week.
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Aircraft Handling) 1st Class James Edward Trice Jr. was found dead on the Washington state-based ship on April 18, according to carrier spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Miranda Williams.
The pills were allegedly provided to Trice by another sailor, according to Williams and federal authorities.
“In the pocket of the victim’s uniform in the workspace, investigators with (the Naval Criminal Investigative Service) found two blue pills believed to be counterfeit 30 milligram Percocet pills laced with fentanyl,” according to court records.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid pain reliever generally used for treating pain related to advanced stages of cancer.
Cases involving fentanyl-related overdose and death in the United States, however, are linked to illegally manufactured variations of the drug, which is sold for its heroin-like effect, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a November alert, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration warned that such counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl can be lethal even in minute doses.
NCIS agents, meanwhile, identified the sailor who provided Trice with the pills, and that sailor in turn identified 28-year-old Chase Friedrich as the alleged supplier, according to court records and a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington.
The sailor tied to supplying Trice with the pills reported buying cocaine from Friedrich in the past as well, authorities alleged in court records.
Friedrich was arrested April 21 at his apartment in Des Moines, a town just south of Seattle.
“A search of Friedrich’s apartment revealed cocaine, a handgun, and a bag of approximately 100 counterfeit pills,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Investigators then traced the pills and cocaine to Raoul V. Normandia Jr., 28, who was arrested a few blocks from his residence in nearby Federal Way on April 24, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“During a court-authorized search of Normandia’s residence, law enforcement recovered firearms, ammunition, body armor, narcotics and various signs of the drug trade, including scales, baggies, heat sealers, MoneyGram receipts and 20 cell phones,” the U.S. Attorney’s office statement said.
Both men face a federal charge of possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute. Friedrich’s attorney, Jennifer Wellman, declined to comment, and Normandia’s attorney, Robert Goldsmith, did not return a request for comment as of publication.
Friedrich was released from custody on April 22, while Normandia remains in detention at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center, according to records.
The fate of the sailor who supplied Trice with the pills remains unclear. NCIS declined to comment further on the sailor, citing the ongoing investigation.
“No additional arrests have been made nor have additional charges been filed at this point,” Williams said.
“Out of respect for the family, the Navy will not discuss details of this death any further,” she added. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with his family and shipmates during this difficult time.”
Navy Times could not reach Trice’s family for comment.
Originally from Missouri, Trice enlisted in 2008 and reported to the Vinson in November 2016, according to service records.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.