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The synthetic opioid fentanyl, often packaged to look like other prescription drugs, has destroyed lives and devastated families who have lost loved ones that died from fentanyl-related overdoses.  

Matt Capelouto, who lost his 20-year-old daughter to a fentanyl overdose in 2019, just two days before Christmas, worked to change how prosecutors handled death cases involving the opioid.  

KTLA’s Karen Wynter reports on the opioid crisis in Part Three of the “Fighting Fentanyl” series.

A college student in her sophomore year at Arizona State University, Alexandra Capelouto, was majoring in sociology. She was also a budding artist and a talented poet, her parents said.  

Alexandra Capelouto who died of from a fentanyl-related overdose in December 2019.

Her storybook life was cut short in 2019, after the 20-year-old bought what she thought were oxycodone pills on Snapchat.  

The pills turned out to be counterfeits that were packed with five times the fatal amount of fentanyl.  

Alexandra’s mother, Christine, discovered her dead in the bedroom of their Temecula home the next morning.  

“It’s a game changer, life will never be the same. That’s for sure,” Capelouto told KTLA.  

The Riverside County Coroner ruled Alexandra’s death an accidental overdose, but her father disagreed. He believed her death was murder because she never knew the drugs that she consumed would kill her.  

That’s when Capelouto relentlessly embarked on a mission that would shake up the criminal justice system in Riverside County and quickly get the attention of the county’s district attorney.

“You know, his question kind of haunted me. ‘Why isn’t this murder? Why isn’t the DA’s office and law enforcement in Riverside County looking at this as what it is? It should be murder,’” DA Hestrin said of a letter he received from Alexandra’s father.

Capelouto told KTLA that he and Hestrin met after the tragedy, that he shared his story with the DA and that he agreed that Alexandra’s death was murder.

“Not only did he listen, but he took action,” Capelouto said.

Since 2021, the Riverside County DA’s office has prosecuted about 20 fentanyl death cases, 15 of them with murder charges. Another five are federal death cases, not considered murder but it’s an equivalent federal offense.  

Other jurisdictions, like San Bernardino and Orange counties, have taken notice, with drug dealers now facing possible murder charges if someone dies from fentanyl poisoning. 

“In my daughter’s short 20-year life, she taught me far more in the last two and a half years than I ever taught her,” Capelouto said.