Fresno State coach loses son to fentanyl: ‘I don’t want anyone else to lose theirs’

FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – In 2022, nearly 74,000 people nationwide died from a fentanyl overdose.

Fentanyl claimed the lives of nearly 100 people in the Fresno metro area. Unfortunately, it is something most of us don’t think about and don’t want to talk about until it’s taken the life of someone we love.

“Grief. I’m going to grieve the rest of my life because that’s my son,” said Fresno State Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach Vonn Webb.

On May 11, 2022, Coach Webb got the call all parents feared most.

“When they called me and told me that they had found him I was so shocked man. I had no idea. Not a clue. I didn’t know. I was like what are you talking about? and they do all the tests and they said it was an accidental fentanyl deal. I was like wow. I had no, I have unanswered questions for myself,” said Webb.

The biggest question is why. Why did his youngest son Taelin die from a fentanyl overdose at 26 years old?

The standout basketball player turned football star at Southern Utah University was disciplined, passionate, and in tip-top shape. His father tells CBS47 that Taelin was ready to pursue his dream.

“When you’re training and you’re trying to get to that next level. You know his goal was to get to the NFL at some point…he was doing anything he could to be the best he could be at it,” said Webb.

With possible opportunities to play football in Canada – and that dream of the NFL – Webb thinks his son was pushing himself through years of injuries and pain and perhaps self-medicating.

“My personal opinion about it, is I think he got a hold of something that wasn’t real. You know these athletes, you know sometimes they don’t know, they don’t know,” said Webb.

Through his grief and ahead of the second anniversary of Taelin’s death, Webb says he is using his public platform and his voice to sound the alarm about the dangers of fentanyl.

By his side are his players – like Leo Colimerio.

“It was unfortunate. Everybody has hurt for him, especially since I barely didn’t know his son personally, but It was tough to see that person I see every day and someone close to him for his loss. You know what was strong for me was to see the way he react afterward and how he always hold himself up strong, didn’t show weakness to anybody,” said Colimerio.

Leo, a forward on the Fresno State Men’s Basketball team, admits before Taelin died he didn’t know much about fentanyl and is grateful to now know the dangers and thankful to be able to spread a message of awareness with his teammates.

“It felt very good knowing the impact we can have, the positive impact we can have,” added Colimerio.

Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama was asked by CBS47 for some answers about fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is a drug, it is not an opioid. It is a counterfeit opioid, so it’s man-made a true opioid comes from the poppy plant and that has to be grown,” said Chief Balderrama. “There is a lot of business perspectives as to why fentanyl is what it is. Number one, very lucrative, they can get these derivatives very cheaply, they don’t have to grow a plan, it doesn’t take weeks or months, they basically make this in a lab and basically, fentanyl is a sedative. It can be used by the medical community to put you out with oxygen in case they have to operate on you. It does give you a high, it is highly addictive and it’s something that’s highly affecting our community.”

Chief Balderrama says most of the fentanyl in California comes from Mexico. The problem is especially bad near the border where he says you can get a fentanyl pill in San Diego for 25 cents. The same pill in Anchorage, Alaska, goes for $120.

“For the first time here this year, we are seeing people who are fentanyl addicts. They are addicted to fentanyl. That’s the drug that they want and it is deadly and people don’t understand,” added Balderama.

Chief Balderrama says fentanyl is such a strong sedative it causes a person to stop breathing. The amount and everyone’s tolerance varies and nearly everything these days is laced with fentanyl even marijuana and all it takes for most is a small amount to turn deadly.

“Here’s the good side of the information. We’ve actually lowered the number of overdoses,” said Balderama. “In 2021, we had 114 overdoses here in the metro area. Through a lot of education, going to the high schools teaching some of the kids they’re getting it 2022 we had 96 and, last year we had 84…the fact that we’re making some progress where a lot of major cities are still being decimated by the overdose of this drug gives me some hope that we can make a difference.”

A difference is thanks to talks with students in seminars with other law enforcement agencies and through public service announcements. Webb shared his personal story of loss with us for the first time, in hopes that through his loss another life will be saved.

“On the heels of me losing my son I don’t want anyone else to lose theirs – and it’s happening every day,” said Webb.

Coach Webb is also launching a nonprofit soon that will focus on getting the word out about the dangers of fentanyl. He says when his coaching days are over he will spend the rest of his life spreading awareness in the memory of his son Taelin.

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