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Overdose death leads to murder charge

J. H. Osborne • Nov 19, 2019 at 9:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Tonya Gray, 38, of Kingsport, is charged with second-degree murder, three counts of sale of heroin, one count of delivery of heroin, one count of sale of Fentanyl and one count of delivery of Fentanyl in connection with the July overdose death of a 28-year-old Sullivan County woman.

Gray’s arrest and charges were announced on Tuesday by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch, District Attorney General Barry Staubus and Bristol, Tennessee, Police Chief Blaine Wade. The three spoke during a joint press conference that revealed a new partnership: The Sullivan County Drug Related Death Task Force.

Gray’s arrest in connection to the overdose death came after an investigation by the TBI and the Bristol, Tennessee, Police Department under the umbrella of that task force, Staubus said. And more will likely follow.

“This case represents other cases we are working to investigate and we will be charging in the future,” Staubus said.

Rausch underlined the point.

“This is just one case,” Rausch said. “It’s one of many cases being investigated by the task force. The idea of investigating these overdose deaths in this manner is a fairly new concept and approach for law enforcement.”

In the past, drug overdoses have been treated mostly as a medical issue, Rausch said, but the task force reflects a shift to understanding “somebody provided that drug and that person needs to be held accountable.”

And that’s one way this approach will help address the region’s drug problem, Rausch said.

“It sends a clear and present message to those out there peddling death,” Rausch said. “To those out there peddling drugs, this message is very clear: You’re going to be held accountable for your actions.”

Background

According to a TBI press release:

• In July, TBI special agents, detectives with the Bristol, Tennessee, Police Department, and investigators with the 2nd Judicial Drug Task Force, working jointly as part of the Sullivan County Drug Related Death Task Force, began investigating the circumstances leading to an overdose that resulted in the death of a Sullivan County woman.

• During the course of the investigation, authorities learned that the victim purchased heroin laced with fentanyl shortly before she overdosed. Further investigation revealed that Gray allegedly distributed the drugs to the victim.

• On Nov. 6, a Sullivan County grand jury returned indictments charging Gray with one count of second-degree murder, three counts of sale of heroin, one count of delivery of heroin, one count of sale of Fentanyl and one count of delivery of Fentanyl.

• Last Thursday, Gray was arrested and booked into the Sullivan County Jail on a $100,000 bond.

The task force

The Sullivan County Drug Related Death Task Force, only the second of its kind in the state, is a partnership between the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; 2nd Judicial District Drug Task Force; 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office; Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office; Bristol, Tennessee, Police Department; Kingsport Police Department; Drug Enforcement Administration; Tennessee National Guard and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The goal of the task force is to pursue those distributing deadly drug combinations that are resulting in epidemic levels of addiction and death in Northeast Tennessee.

In 2017, Sullivan County was designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). The task force is funded through the Appalachia HIDTA initiative, which uses a multi-disciplinary approach to address public health and safety issues that center around the opioid epidemic as well as other dangerous drug trends.

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