A 34-year-old drug dealer with multiple prior convictions is being charged with first-degree murder in the overdose death of a young woman who died after taking drugs he sold her, according to the Flagler County Sheriff's Office.
"To the drug dealers in Flagler County: If you peddle poison in our community, we are coming after you. If you murder someone with your drugs, we will find you, track you down, and arrest you for murder. It will be our goal that you spend the rest of your life in prison."
— RICK STALY, Flagler County sheriff
"We're here today to bring justice to a family that has a suffered terrible loss," Sheriff Rick Staly said in a press conference Feb. 21, standing next to 7th Circuit State Attorney R.J. Larizza and family members of 23-year-old victim Savannah DeAngelis. "Nothing I say or the agency will do can bring back your daughter. But I hope this arrest will give you some closure, knowing that he cannot hurt anyone else's son or daughter."
A grand jury indicted suspect Joseph Colon on Tuesday, Feb. 20, Staly said. It was the first time in Flagler County that a suspect has been charged under an Oct. 1, 2017 amendment to Florida statutes that allows drug dealers to be charged with murder if their drug dealing results in a death.
Larizza said this particular case is being prosecuted as a murder under the new statute because in this case, law enforcement was able to prove the transaction leading to the victim's death.
"There's overdoses where you may never know where the drugs actually came from, or you might suspect but you can't prove," he said. Larizza said the State Attorney's Office will not seek the death penalty.
"She had this hilarious sense of humor, and that's what I miss most. I miss the fact that I won't have any grandchildren from her, I miss the fact that she won't be a mother, she won't get married. And this is something for the drug dealers to think about — what they're robbing these families of."
— RENEÉ DeANGELIS, mother of victim Savannah DeAngelis
Reneé DeAngelis, Savannah DeAngelis' mother, thanked the Sheriff's Office for its efforts and said her family plans to combat the epidemic of overdose deaths.
"I want this to be the beginning of my family fight against this horrible epidemic, and we want to be able to reach other parents and other families through this," she said. "We need this to be a crusade and have some kind of good coming out of this tragedy."
Reneé DeAngelis said her daughter had a "hilarious sense of humor."
"That's what I miss most," she said. "I miss the fact that I won't have any grandchildren from her, I miss the fact that she won't be a mother, she won't get married. And this is something for the drug dealers to think about — what they're robbing these families of. ... We miss her sense of humor; she loved animals, she loved babies, she was a wonderful human being. She was more than someone who had a drug problem."
Helping other families, Reneé DeAngelis said, "is my mission in life now. I need to help people so they don't have to go through what I did, or if they do, at least I can help them through it."
Sheriff’s Office deputies and paramedics were called out to the scene of a possible overdoes on Front Street in Palm Coast at about noon on Oct. 28, 2017, and found Savannah DeAngelis unconscious but breathing.
She was taken to Florida Hospital Flagler and placed on life support but died nearly two weeks later, Staly said.
The Sheriff's Office's Investigative Services Division Major Case Unit began a homicide investigation, assigning Detective Nicole Thomas to the case.
The investigation, Staly said, determined that at 11:33 a.m. the day of Savannah DeAngelis' overdose, Colon was seen on surveillance video entering her subdivision. He provided the name "Joey" at the entrance gate. At 11:40, witnesses reported seeing a man driving a black Nissan stop in front her home. DeAngelis ran to the car, and the man in the car gave her something and then took off.
At 11:55 a.m., DeAngelis' father found her unconscious on the bathroom floor next to a syringe, an empty plastic baggie and a baggie containing a substance that tested positive for heroin and one additional substance which investigators believe to be Fentanyl. It was just days after she'd been admitted to a drug court program.
As deputies investigated DeAngelis' death, two other people came forward and said they'd had violent overdoses from drugs Colon had sold them.
On Nov. 6, as the murder investigation was ongoing, deputies stopped Colon on a traffic violation. They arrested him and charged him with trafficking in hydromorphone, possession of heroin, crack cocaine and Alprazolam with intent to distribute, possession of oxycodone, and driving with a suspended license.
He has been held at the county jail since that arrest.
Florida has seen overdose rates rocket with the introduction of Fentanyl, a drug much more potent than heroin that is often mixed with it, in some cases without the users' knowledge, "creating a killer cocktail of drugs," Staly said.
Flagler County had nine overdose deaths in 2017, and the Sheriff's Office handled 60 overdose cases.
“In 2017, I directed that our agency investigate all overdoses in the hopes of identifying the poison peddlers,” Staly said. “I also directed that all overdose deaths be investigated as a murder investigation. To the drug dealers in Flagler County: If you peddle poison in our community, we are coming after you. If you murder someone with your drugs, we will find you, track you down, and arrest you for murder. It will be our goal that you spend the rest of your life in prison. I hope this arrest helps bring justice to the family and to anyone else who has been the victim of Joseph Colon, a deadly poison pusher."
To view a livestream of the Feb. 21 press conference, view the Sheriff's Office's Facebook page at facebook.com/flaglercounty.sheriffsoffice.