GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Anna Marie Jackson’s best friends prefer to focus on how she lived her life, not where and how she died.
“She was a very loving, caring (and) honest person,” Alex Ferri said during a tear-filled interview.
Ferri and Anthony Loy, both best friends of Jackson, shared memories of the 27-year-old who graduated from Byron Center Public Schools.
“She was such an amazing person and I just want people to understand that she wasn’t her addiction. It’s not who she was,” Ferri said.
On the morning of July 7, a security officer at John Ball Park in Grand Rapids called 911, reporting the body of a woman at the top of a playground slide.
“He advised he was flagged down by a female who was with a small child that told him about the person on the slide,” Grand Rapids Police Department Officer Robert Mercier wrote in his report.
Mercier was the responding officer to the incident.
The woman with a child tried to roust the person on the slide but got no response.
WOMAN SLUMPED ON TOP OF SPIRAL SLIDE
“I observed a female at the top of the spiral slide, which had a little cone shaped canopy over it,” Mercier wrote. “The female, identified by a hospital arm bracelet as Anna Marie Jackson, had what appeared to be a white hospital type blanket draped over her shoulders. It appeared she had been sitting up and slumped over…”
Jackson, 27, was homeless and had struggled with opioid addiction. She died of an accidental overdose on heroin and fentanyl.
“Once Jackson was moved, a syringe with an unknown semi-clear liquid was observed,” Mercier wrote.
Six hours earlier, Jackson had been released from Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital’s emergency room after treatment for an earlier overdose.
Police found what appeared to be a hospital issued Narcan Nasal Spray kit in her belongings. The spray administers a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose — but it can’t save your life if you OD when you’re alone.
GRPD SENDS DETECTIVES TO FATAL ODS
“This is happening in front of everyone,” GRPD Sgt. John Wittkowski said in a recent interview. “People overdosing in (public) bathrooms, in the street, in a park — this is a public health crisis.”
One of the ways GRPD is attacking that crisis is by sending a vice detective directly to the scenes of every fatal overdose in the city: a practice and policy change that began in October 2017.
“By calling our (vice) detectives in when it happens, whether it’s 2 o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, they can pick up the ball from where patrol officers started and continue to follow up leads, speak to witnesses and hit the ground running, which increases the case’s solvability,” Wittkowski said.
Since October 2017, GRPD’s vice unit has opened 70 investigations stemming from fatal overdoses and made 20 arrests as a result. However, no one has been charged with delivering drugs causing death since 2016, before vice started responding to overdose calls.
Wittkowski said delivery causing death is often hard to prove.
CELLPHONE TEXTS LEAD TO HEROIN DEALER
“In the circles that many of these users are traveling in, they may buy drugs from multiple individuals and those drugs might change hands multiple times, so to actually know who sold those drugs, who distributed, is going to be very difficult to prove when you attempt to backtrack that transaction,” Wittkowski said.
Since prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, they often go for a drug delivery charge instead of delivery causing death.
The vice detective who responded to the scene of Jackson’s death found text messages on her cellphone.
“A search of Anna’s cell phone revealed that she had recently purchased heroin from a subject identified as Quaz at a liquor store parking lot off of Plainfield north of Leonard,” the undercover vice officer wrote in a search warrant filed with 61st District Court.
Search warrants become public 56 days after they are filed.
“Over the last 24 hours I have been communicating with Quaz via text message and voice mail. He agreed to sell me two grams of heroin for $220. He agreed to meet me in the area of Plainfield and Leonard tonight,” the vice officer reported in a search warrant.
But shortly after 10 p.m., a woman called the undercover vice officer, saying she was supposed to meet him to deliver the heroin.
DEALER TO UNDERCOVER COP: THIS COULD KILL YOU
“I had previous discussions with Quaz on the fact that he had ‘fire’ and ‘fire-fire,’the vice officer said.“These are street terms for heroin that (it) is very potent or has been mixed with fentanyl.
(The woman) asked me if I still wanted the “fire fire” and I told her that I did. She advised me that I needed to be very careful with this substance as it could kill me.”
When Nydia Monique Ray showed up and sold to the undercover officer, GRPD’s Special Response Team immediately took her into custody.
Ray, 37, ultimately plead guilty to delivering heroin to the undercover officer, for which she could spend up to 17 months in jail.
But Ray told Target 8 she did not sell to Jackson.
“Not a customer of mine,” Ray told Target 8 from behind the screen of her half-closed front door on Grand Rapids’ Northwest side.
Ray’s defense attorney later contacted Target 8 to make sure it was clear his client had nothing to do with Jackson’s death.
“She’s never met Anna, who passed away. She told me it’s unfortunate that the young lady passed away, but she had nothing to do with it,” attorney Ken Stovall told Target 8. “(Ray) did not sell to this young lady at all.”
SUSPECTED DEALER CONVICTED IN WEST VIRGINIA DEATH
GRPD would not say if they think Quaz himself delivered the drugs that ultimately killed Jackson or if he just arranged the deal and had someone else complete the transaction.
Investigators also would not say whether they’re looking for Quaz, though the investigation continues.
Target 8 has determined “Quaz” is a man in his late 20’s who lived in Grand Rapids as a young teen, but then moved out of state.
At 20, he was convicted in the shooting death of a man in Huntington, West Virginia.
He did four years in a West Virginia prison for manslaughter in the case.
Within a year of his release on the manslaughter charge, he was arrested in Kentucky and convicted of first-degree drug trafficking.
When he was released from a Kentucky prison in May 2019, the state transferred his supervision to Clearwater, Florida, according to Kentucky Department of Corrections spokesperson Katherine Williams.
Williams said Florida notified Kentucky in August that the former prisoner (Quaz) had failed to report, and Kentucky issued a warrant for “absconding his supervision” in late August.
“If he is apprehended by police, then Kentucky Probation and Parole will be notified and will proceed with the violation hearing,” Williams wrote in an email to Target 8.
VICTIM’S FRIENDS: IT’S NOT GOING TO BRING HER BACK
Jackson’s two best friends don’t care if police arrest anyone in connection with her overdose death.
“If it was going to bring her back, yes, but it’s not going to bring her back,” Loy said.
They say one drug dealer will not end the opioid issue.
“There are always going to be drug dealers,” Ferri said. “Even if one gets caught, there will just be a new one to take over.”
Both friends said Jackson had a difficult life from the start. She was born in East Grand Rapids to a mom and dad who both struggled with addiction and caring for a baby girl.
She was eventually adopted by her grandparents, who moved to Byron Center to raise her.