Petaluma police arrest woman following apparent overdose death of son
The death of a 16-year-old boy apparently from a drug overdose early Monday at a Petaluma home led to the arrest of his mother, police said Tuesday, for failing to call for help when he suffered a medical emergency, leaving him unconscious in a car and walking away before police officers arrived.
The death was the third — and youngest — overdose death in Petaluma in six months.
His mother, Danielle E. Foernsler, 34, and Robert Harrison, 39, of Petaluma went to jail after a police investigation of Harrison’s Vallejo Street rental home, Petaluma police Lt. Tim Lyons said.
Officers suspect both adults were not only under the influence of drugs but knew the teen also was using drugs, likely Xanax laced with fentanyl.
Harrison had recently moved into the house and invited Foernsler and her son, both transients, to stay a few nights, Lyons said. Police suspect all three were using drugs Sunday night and into Monday. Evidence at the house showed Xanax, fentanyl and heroin were available.
During the night the mother and Harrison apparently realized the youth was having a medical problem and police suspect they put him in a shower in an attempt to treat him, Lyons said. Then they then carried him, still wet, outside to a car.
That’s when Harrison’s roommate woke up, heard yelling and saw them carrying the teen to the car, Lyons said. The roommate called police at 4:17 a.m., walked outside, and told a dispatcher the teen wasn’t breathing and needed an ambulance.
When officers arrived they found the soaked unconscious youth in the car alone, Lyons said.
Harrison and his roommate were inside the house when police arrived but the boy’s mother had left on foot, Lyons said.
An ambulance took the teen to Petaluma Valley Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 5:09 a.m.
While officers were at the house Foernsler returned and gave them a false name, saying she was the victim’s cousin. She later corrected herself, admitting she’d given a false name because she was wanted on robbery arrest warrants.
Foernsler also appeared to have been using drugs, Lyons said.
While officers investigated they heard a ringing phone and found it in an outside garbage can along with a laptop briefcase, loaded gun and a needle filled with an unidentified substance. The phone was Harrison’s, Lyons said.
Harrison was arrested on suspicion of felony child endangerment, possessing the gun and drugs and being under the influence. Foernsler was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, felony child endangerment and two robbery warrants.
They were booked into the Sonoma County Jail. Harrison wasn’t in custody Tuesday; Foernsler remained in jail without bail.
Police still are piecing together the recent history of Foernsler and her son, including where they’d been staying and who was his legal guardian. The woman’s last known address was in Santa Rosa but it appeared she’d been homeless for awhile, Lyons said. Her son also was a transient and apparently hadn’t gone to school in some time, Lyons said.
An autopsy was conducted Monday.
Members of the boy’s family declined to be interviewed.
The teen’s death was the third time since Friday Petaluma officers had a drug overdose call. There have been 19 other drug-related overdose calls in the last six months, mostly involving teens and adults in their 20s, Lyons said. Two others ended in death — both 23‑year‑old males.
Most of the cases involved heroin, but officers also are seeing an increase in medical cases involving fentanyl, he said. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid pain medication, some 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Sonoma County school and law enforcement officials recently warned of an increase in students’ Xanax abuse. The anti‑anxiety drug has become the most widely abused prescription drug among students, school district officials and police told The Press Democrat in February. Another involved an increase in use of counterfeit Xanax pills laced with fentanyl.
Lyons asked anyone with information on the teen’s case to contact Detective Walt Spiller at 707-778‑4372.
You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@rossmannreport.