HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN)—Deputies announced the arrest Wednesday of an 18-year-old suspect on a murder charge connected to the fentanyl overdose death of a 15-year-old boy from Kyle.

Investigators said they arrested Jaquell Desean Ray on April 11 and charged him with delivery of a controlled substance or marijuana to a minor, which is a second-degree felony. Prosecutors filed an additional charge of felony murder on May 1.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, District Attorney Kelly Higgins said this case should come as a warning to those selling drugs to young people in the county.

“The message I want to send is if you sell fentanyl in Hays County and someone dies as a result, you’re very likely to face a charge of felony murder,” Higgins told reporters. “It will at least be reviewed for that, and we will lay the hardest charge we can lay while still meeting our ethical standards as lawyers.”

Hunter Wheeler said he lost his 17-year-old son Spencer to fentanyl poisoning in September. It’s a story that’s become all too common. And he understands more than most what the family of the 15-year-old Lehman High student are going through.

“As a parent, I would not think this cannot happen to me, because it can,” Wheeler said. “It’s a crisis, and it certainly can happen. I’m living proof, and I’ll forever be broken.”

On April 11, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office and Hays County EMS responded to a call about a 15 year old found unresponsive in the 100 block of Cotton Gin Road in Kyle. EMS tried to revive him, but the 15 year old died. He was a student at Lehman High School.

The HSCO Criminal Investigation Division and the Special Services Division (SSD) started an investigation. The preliminary investigation found the victim’s death was caused by an accidental drug overdose, specifically from fentanyl.

During the criminal investigation, deputies said SSD identified a suspect believed to have sold the fentanyl to the victim.

Ray had his bond set at $100,000 for the delivery charge and $300,000 for the murder charge, deputies said.

KXAN is now working to find attorney information for Ray and seek further comment. This story will be updated once anything is shared.

History of fentanyl overdoses in Hays County

In March, another teen was arrested by Kyle and San Marcos Police in connection to a fatal fentanyl overdose case involving a minor.

Hays County has seen several fentanyl overdose deaths within the last year.

Officials in Hays County said a Hays Consolidated Independent School District student died from a fentanyl overdose two days into 2023, and in 2022, the sheriff’s office reported a total of 37 fentanyl overdoses, 14 of which involved juveniles between 13 and 17 years old. 

Hays CISD told KXAN in January four of its students died from overdoses last year.

In January, the parents of three Hays CISD students who died from fentanyl in 2022 put up a billboard along Interstate 35 in Kyle to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl.

Higgins said Wednesday that 40% of overdoses in Hays County last year involved children under the age of 18.

There have been 14 fentanyl-related arrests in 2023, according to the HCSO.

“Great the guys getting arrested, but the poor family is forever changed,” Wheeler said.

The HCSO said it’s done more than 70 presentations, trying to educate students on how deadly fentanyl is.

Officials are pleading with the community and parents for help targeting drug dealers on social media, and throughout various neighborhoods.

Fentanyl penalties

A felony murder charge occurs when someone dies in the course of a felony being committed. It differs from Capital Murder in that intent to kill isn’t required for a felony murder.

“This is becoming standard. This is not just a Hays County thing,” said criminal defense attorney Benjamin Gergen. “We have a juvenile client in Williamson County who’s charged with a similar offense. this is just what society’s pushback is to a very dangerous drug.”

Gergen said the case hinges on the evidence of suspect’s knowledge of fentanyl, evidence DA Higgins said prosecutors have.

“Getting a jury to believe this defendant knew his conduct was capable of causing a death. Does an 18-year-old kid really think about who’s getting his end product?” said Gergen.

Janel Rodriguez, whose 15-year-old son Noah died of a fentanyl overdose in a separate incident, said she didn’t initially agree with such harsh penalties for young dealers until the fentanyl crisis spiked in Hays County.

“There needs to be an example. If you do this in Hays County, you’re going to be held responsible,” she said. “If we let people off, we’re never going to end this.”

A bill to increase criminal penalties for selling and distributing fentanyl is currently making its way through the state legislature.