School's safety incident reports can't measure pain of losing high school senior

Synthetic drug dealers got to Coral Shores High School student

Students wore red and lined up outside of the school in the shape of an "R" to honor the memory of Roberto Fausto, who died before his 19th birthday. They held up a sign that read, "We Miss You Rico Suave."
Students wore red and lined up outside of the school in the shape of an "R" to honor the memory of Roberto Fausto, who died before his 19th birthday. They held up a sign that read, "We Miss You Rico Suave." (COURTESY OF CORAL SHORES HIGH SCHOOL)

KEY WEST, Fla. – While he was a student at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier, Roberto Fausto Ornelas was struggling with drugs. But not many knew that.

After he was arrested on a drug charge near Key West Elementary on April 3, 2014, he was undergoing regular drug tests. Guadalupe Ornelas, a Mexican cook at Harriette's Restaurant, said his son was compliant and cared about his health.

It was about 4:30 a.m. when Guadalupe Ornelas said he asked his son to lower the music. The teen was aggressive and at one point didn't recognize him. The father said he called 911 for help. Deputies broke into the teen's room and shot him twice with a Taser.

Ornelas "appeared to be wigging out on some form of drug," Monroe County Sheriff's Office Deputy Bryan Cross said in his report. He also said the teen was "uttering incoherent phrases" and "sweating profusely. His eyes were wide open with a blank stare as if staring through you, and [he] was foaming around his mouth and nose area."

About an hour later, the high school senior was at Mariners Hospital in Tavernier, where he was sedated. On his way to Homestead Hospital, his condition worsened. He would never go back to Coral Shores High School. He was brain dead.


Top 3 schools on drug use in Monroe County:  Key West High School, Horace O'Bryant School and Coral Shores High School.

Top school district on drug use in South Florida:  While Broward County had the highest volume of drug use reports, Monroe County was the district with the highest percentage of drug use reports in South Florida.

Changes on reports from 2012-13 to 2013-14:  There was a 28 percent decrease in drug use reports in Monroe County. Drug sales vanished.

The challenge: Drug use safety incident reports were also an issue during the 2012-2013 school year, but the district showed a 28-percent decrease during 2013-2014, when reports went down from 40 to 29.

"His mom and I had problems, but that was a long time ago. We were divorced for a reason and that probably wasn't easy ... but he was active, happy and liked to socialize," his father said in Spanish.

The Miami-Dade Police Department was investigating. The medical examiner was quick to rule out a heart attack. But three months after his death, the case was still open. Homicide detectives were still waiting on the results of toxicology tests, Miami-Dade police Detective Robin Pinkard said.

"I am furious, because I know he was taking care of himself," his father said. "But then a person came and was after him, offering him this type of drug, because it wouldn't come up in urine tests."

Traffickers of synthetic designer drugs have labs in which they use hundreds of chemical cocktails to quickly create the new "legal highs" that are not only difficult to pin down, but are also turning the an effort to provide proper medical treatment into a guessing game, a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent said.

A recent study showed that one out of 10 high school seniors used synthetic "cannabinoids" in the last year.

The DEA and the Department of Justice partnered with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to target the unprecedented market growth. It has been "nearly impossible" for legislation to catch up to drug makers, he said, and while synthetic "cannabinoid" has been easier to track, synthetic acid has been a challenge.

"Synthetic acid is dangerous. It's being sold as 'Smiles' or 'N-Bombs' and they are more potent than LSD," the agent said. "They come in bright colors and with cartoons that appeal to kids, and the little stamps are easy to hide."

The synthetic acid might have made into Ornelas' hands before the early morning when his father said he became scared and called 911 for help.  When the teen's family and friends should have been celebrating his 19th birthday and looking forward to his high school graduation, they were distraught and plagued with questions.

"He was going to a good school," Guadalupe Ornelas said. "I don't know how those criminals selling drugs got to him and are still out there."

Teachers and students were as disconcerted as his family. Standing outside of his school in Tavernier, they held up a sign that said "We Miss You" and "Rico Suave," slang for a good-looking and charismatic guy. They lined up in the shape of the letter "R" for a picture that was meant to honor his memory.

"I remember Roberto as a kind, lively young man and feel lucky to have had him as a student," teacher Jodi Fiedler said on the family's Give Forward page. "My sympathies go out to his family."

Monroe County public school district's challenge

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: Check-mark the type of incident to view proportional volume and browse over circles to view the specific quantity of safety incident reports filed with the Florida Department of Education.

Interactive graphic: Incidents in Monroe

SOURCE: 2012-2013 Florida Department of Education records