Vernon judge calls drug dealer 'reckless' in selling heroin amid overdose crisis

Vernon Law Courts

VERNON - A judge noted the high death toll from drug overdoses in the Vernon community as he sentenced a local man for dealing a mix of heroin and fentanyl.

Dana John Kirton, 27, was arrested by police on June 2 for possession for the purpose of trafficking, a charge he pleaded guilty to.

Kirton was caught with 20 packages of crack cocaine and nine packages containing a mix of fentanyl and heroin. Police also found two collapsable batons, weighted gloves, a knife, three cellphones and $738 in cash.

Judge Richard Hewson took time during Kirton’s sentencing hearing to outline the number of deaths attributed to illicit drug overdoses — a significant portion of them involving the potent opioid fentanyl.

“Through his counsel, Mr. Kirton told me that his supplier told him the drugs were heroin, but he conceded that he was reckless for selling heroin when it was widely known in Vernon that heroin was often laced with fentanyl,” Hewson said.

Hewson read aloud statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service stating there were 17 overdose deaths in the first 10 months of 2017 in the Vernon community. That’s up from 12 in 2016, eight in 2015, and six in 2014.

“The numbers bear out what has been clear for some time. The introduction of fentanyl into our community has led to a rapid increase in the number of deaths by overdose,” Hewson said. “What the numbers do not show is that the dead are our neighbours, and that every one of them had a circle of friends and family just like Mr. Kirton’s. Their loss is our loss.”

The reason Kirton gave for selling illicit drugs was financial. He engaged in the dial-a-dope operation — which involved driving around in his Dodge Ram pickup to deliver and sell drugs to people in Vernon and Coldstream — to supplement his income as a concrete finisher.

“He had bills and debts that he could not pay, and he needed the money,” Hewson said.

Kirton has no criminal record and brought ten character letters to court written by friends and family members who describe him as an amazing father, and someone who is “kind and loving.”

“It is important to recognize that there is no evidence whatsoever that any of the members of our community died from a drug overdose caused by fentanyl sold by Mr. Kirton,” Hewson said. “At the same time, it is impossible to ignore the number of Vernon residents who have died from drug overdoses in recent months.”

Hewson imposed a sentence of two years, less a day, followed by a strict 12 month probation.

Kirton was led out of the courtroom by court sheriffs.

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