California toddler’s fentanyl overdose; parents admit to smoking drug every 7 hours
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – The child had turned blue by the time police arrived.
Called to an apartment on Kroll Way near Gosford Road, a Bakersfield police officer found a 1-year-old boy motionless on the floor, his parents sobbing. The child wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse.
Officer Mariya Corral began CPR. As she worked on the boy she gave a quick look around the room, looking for anything that could explain his condition. She saw a straw cut in half, one end burnt. She recognized it as an item used to smoke fentanyl.
The boy’s mother also noticed the straw and grabbed it as Corral continued providing CPR. The child gave a small gasp and Corral found “a very faint pulse,” according to a newly-released police report filed in Superior Court.
An ambulance rushed the boy to the hospital and Corral began questioning his parents, Gabriella Goldberg and John Lawson.
Lawson denied using drugs — even after the officer told her she needed information to help save his son’s life — but Goldberg admitted she and her husband smoked fentanyl the night before.
Corral relayed this information to an officer at the hospital. Shortly afterward, the officer told Corral that Narcan had been administered to the child, who “immediately became responsive.” He survived.
The close call happened on Jan. 15. The couple was arrested but later released as the investigation continued. Last month, prosecutors filed charges.
Both Goldberg and Lawson, 20 at the time of the overdose, face charges of felony child cruelty and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Goldberg is also charged with concealing evidence.
A court date hasn’t been set, but reports containing summaries of interviews conducted with the couple reveal the extent of their addiction. They told detectives they smoke fentanyl every seven hours not to get high, but to hold withdrawal symptoms at bay.
Corral confronted Goldberg about the straw. Goldberg started crying and said she hid it because she didn’t want her son taken from her, according to the court documents. She directed the officer to where she placed the straw between two PODS storage containers, saying she placed it there when emergency responders carried her son to the ambulance.
Goldberg admitted using the straw to smoke fentanyl, according to the documents, and said she wasn’t sure if there was fentanyl in the room. She gave Corral permission to search the room.
The officer searched where the toddler had been playing and found a small baggie containing a white powdered substance she recognized as fentanyl, documents said. There were burnt pieces of foil on a short table in the room which the boy could have reached, the officer wrote in her report.
The baggie and foil were seized. After a warrant was obtained to search the entire apartment, police found more drug paraphernalia, including a cut plastic straw with black residue inside a baby crib, documents said. Narcan was located in a kitchen drawer.
Police encountered squalid conditions. There was trash on the floor and trash cans overflowing, a cat litter box piled with feces emitting a “nearly unbearable” smell, according to documents. The fridge contained rotten food. The sink was filled with dirty dishes covered with flies.
Child Protective Services — which took custody of the toddler — had received two prior referrals about Goldberg and Lawson.
In December 2020, the agency received a report that the apartment smelled of marijuana while the child was inside, according to the documents. The second referral, in 2021, alleged the child had been left unsupervised in a bathtub full of water.
According to the documents, a CPS representative told police neither referral was investigated.
John Lawson’s interview
He denied drug use when asked at the apartment, but after being taken to police headquarters Lawson opened up about the hold fentanyl has on him, according to a report summarizing his interview with Detectives Marc Lugo and Trisha Wattree.
“John Lawson was forthright with his statement,” Lugo wrote. “John Lawson stated both he and Goldberg are addicted to fentanyl.”
In high school, Lawson began taking prescription pills laced with fentanyl, he told the detectives. He later began using fentanyl in its rock form and estimated he’s been using four to six years.
At this point in his addiction, Lawson told detectives, he no longer smokes to get high; he tries to fight off withdrawal symptoms.
“John Lawson stated whenever he does not use fentanyl every 6-7 hours, he would begin to feel the effects of withdrawal,” Lugo wrote. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and body aches.
The longest he’s gone without using is seven days, Lawson told detectives. Then the pain becomes unbearable.
By using a small amount, he feels “healthy enough” to watch his son, Lawson said according to the documents.
On the day of the overdose, Lawson told detectives, he and Goldberg smoked fentanyl before Goldberg’s mother dropped off their son. He said his “routine” after smoking involves removing the drug and paraphernalia from where the toddler can get to it, and he wasn’t sure how the overdose happened, according to the documents.
Lawson told detectives he knows that even the slightest exposure to fentanyl can be deadly.
Lawson said he and Goldberg were watching YouTube in bed as the child played nearby. He eventually noticed the boy slumped over, documents said.
He called 911 and gave his son CPR until police arrived, Lawson told detectives.
Gabriella Goldberg’s interview
Interviewed separately, Goldberg corroborated what Lawson told detectives about their fentanyl use. She said giving birth was less painful than withdrawal symptoms, according to the documents.
“I feel like, I’m the most normal and best, that is clear mind that I can be is when I am not withdrawing,” she told detectives.
Goldberg described the master bedroom as the “safe space” for her and Lawson to get high, documents said. They never smoke in their son’s room, she told detectives.
They time their drug use for when the child is sleeping or at a relative’s home, Goldberg said according to the documents. She said the items used to smoke are either put in a drawer or somewhere out of the boy’s reach.
But asked whether she believed her apartment was safe for the boy, Goldberg shook her head and said “no,” according to the documents.
Jan. 15 was not the first time her son experienced the effects of drugs, Goldberg told detectives.
She was using when she found out she was pregnant, according to the documents, and said her child remained in the hospital for weeks after his birth as he went through withdrawal symptoms.