South Florida couple sold fentanyl to a mom whose infant died after eating it, feds say

Nearly two years after a 10-month-old baby died after ingesting fentanyl at her parents’ home in Boynton Beach, the Lake Worth dealers that sold the couple the drug have been charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl.

The charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Southern District, Samantha Hana Yi, 32, and Darnell Julio Mendez, 31, were arrested on Wednesday and appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge in West Palm Beach on Thursday.

Yi is also charged with the distribution of fentanyl resulting in death. That charge carries a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Here’s what led to the charges.

Infant dies

According to allegations in the criminal complaint, Palm Beach sheriffs responded to a mother’s 911 call concerning an infant in distress on March 31, 2022.

According to The Palm Beach Post, the mother, Kelly Ann Kirwan, then 32, noticed her 10-month-old daughter was making “strange noises” while sleeping in the afternoon and texted video clips to friends and family who told her the sounds were not normal. The father, who was not identified in court records, was at work and not home at the time. She also reportedly texted Yi her concerns.

Two hours later Kirwan reportedly drove to Yi’s home to buy more drugs. An hour later, about three hours after she first noticed something was amiss with the infant, Kirwan called 911 after pulling over at Boynton Beach Boulevard and Military Trail with the baby in her car, WPTV 5 reported.

According to U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe’s report, the infant was taken to Bethesda Hospital East in Boynton Beach. Her mother accompanied her. On April 1, 2022, the baby was transferred to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. Four days later, on April 5, the baby died at the hospital.

A Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s autopsy determined that the baby’s death was caused by fentanyl intoxication and that her manner of death was homicide, Lapointe’s report said.

Kirwan was arrested in October 2022 on a charge of aggravated manslaughter of a child by culpable negligence. Her case remains open in Palm Beach County Circuit Court and she has helped DEA investigators identify Yi and Mendez as the dealers, the Palm Beach Post reported.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Boynton Beach police detectives recovered fentanyl at the baby’s home. “Investigation determined that the baby’s mother and father were addicts and had been abusing fentanyl regularly in the kitchen of their apartment,” Lapointe’s report read.

What is fentanyl

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 150 people nationally die daily from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to a 2023 CDC report. Predicted cases in Florida fell by 5.5% between September 2022 and September 2023, however, according to the report.

A syringe with Fentanyl, the Narcotic Painkiller. (Dreamstime/TNS)
A syringe with Fentanyl, the Narcotic Painkiller. (Dreamstime/TNS)

What the investigation found

The case was investigated by officers from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Boyton Beach police and Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators determined that the baby was teething and ingested fentanyl while in the care of her mother and while her father was at work.

Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration identified Yi and Mendez as the drug dealers who were responsible for the distribution of the fentanyl that killed the baby.

Investigators sifted through months of electronic communications on Kirwan’s phone. They found exchanges between Yi and the mother involving drug transactions in which the mother was the customer, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The investigation also determined that Yi’s boyfriend, Mendez, was also involved in the distribution of fentanyl.

Investigators were able to determine that on March 30, 2022, the mother met with Yi in Boynton Beach to purchase fentanyl, and that fentanyl was ingested by the baby resulting in her death.

As part of the joint investigation, DEA. Boynton Beach police and Palm Beach sheriffs conducted an operation involving two undercover officers who purchased fentanyl from Yi and Mendez. That undercover operation led to their at their home in Lake Worth on March 6.

Previous charges

Mendez has a history of controlled substance and violent crime offenses, according to the criminal complaint.

Court records in Palm Beach County show Mendez faced felony charges in 2010 for burglary and battery. He entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to six years in prison. He pleaded guilty to marijuana possession in 2015. And 2016, Mendez pleaded guilty to charges of possession of heroin and cocaine with intent to sell. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Yi also has previous felony charges, according to Palm Beach County court records. In August 2023, she pleaded not guilty to drug possession charges, including fentanyl, and grand theft. Both cases are still open. In June 2023, she was found guilty of fleeing from a marked police car and spent 15 days in jail. In 2016, she pleaded guilty to a felony possession of paraphernalia charge and was credited with time served.

What’s next?

On Thursday, U.S. Attorneys told the federal court in West Palm Beach that Yi and Mendez are convicted felons who are considered a flight risk and danger to the community based on the offenses described in the complaint. Prosecutors also told the court that 14 firearms were in the couple’s home when they were arrested on March 7.

Detention hearings are scheduled for Yi on March 12 and Mendez on March 14. The arraignment and preliminary hearings are scheduled for March 21.