California man charged in deadly South Side overdoses, tainted cocaine suspected
Tainted cocaine served by a California man at an after-party led to the overdose deaths of three men at a South Side Flats apartment early Sunday morning, according to city and federal authorities.
Peter Rene Sanchez Montalvo, who also goes by Carlos, faces federal charges of distributing a controlled substance resulting in death and serious bodily injury. He was arrested Monday and appeared briefly in federal court. Preliminary and detention hearings are scheduled for Thursday.
Police said Sanchez Montalvo’s drugs also sent four men to the hospital after the white powder was passed around at a party in an apartment at the SouthSide Works City Apartments on Tunnel Boulevard.
Initial testing by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office suggested the presence of fentanyl in the white powder, according to the U.S Attorney’s Office.
Pittsburgh Public Safety spokesman Chris Togneri said detectives have not yet found the rest of the tainted drugs.
“Police always caution against illegal drug use — the user simply does not and cannot know what was put into the drug,” he said. “But with a tainted, potentially deadly batch circulating, it is more important now than ever to be extremely careful.”
Medics responded to the apartment building about 4 a.m. Sunday and found Rubio Clemente-Martinez, 32, of Columbus, Ohio, dead outside the building’s elevator, according to the criminal complaint.
Acting on a tip that Martinez was staying in a fourth-floor apartment, officers got a key from management and found five more men suffering overdoses. Two of the men — Joel Pecina, 32, of Coraopolis, and Josue Soberal Serrano, 38, of Carthage, Mo. — were pronounced dead at the scene.
Togneri said deadly events were set into motion at a concert at Insomnia Discotec in Brookline, where Sanchez Montalvo was an attendee.
Patrons at the event were given orange wristbands, Togneri said. The seven affected men were found wearing orange wristbands.
As the night wore on, Sanchez Montalvo allegedly invited other concert-goers back to the apartment in which he was staying at the City Apartments, police said. Members of the band were invited to play at the apartment.
A witness reported an unknown man in the apartment — later identified as Sanchez Montalvo — “showing off all the money that he had.” The man offered up a box of what the witness believed was cocaine, according to the complaint.
The witness said Sanchez Montalvo went around the room offering the drugs on a knife for partygoers to sniff, according to the complaint. The witness refused, a fight ensued, and the witness fled. Police said the witness provided a video that showed Sanchez Montalvo scooping and serving cocaine.
Police also noted Sanchez Montalvo’s distinctive clothing: a bright red shirt, black pants and a hat.
Authorities said they interviewed the survivors at UPMC Mercy, and the survivors relayed the same series of events: A man at the after-party passed around cocaine; they took a small dose, known as a bump, of cocaine; and they immediately began to collapse and overdose.
Authorities also interviewed the individual who leases the apartment, who said he’d been approached by a friend who asked him to rent the apartment to a man named Eddie and his cousin, “Carlos,” in return for $500, according to the complaint.
The lessee reported having never been inside the apartment, nor did they have a key, according to the complaint. The only contact the lessee claimed to have had with Eddie and Carlos was in July to turn over a key for the mailbox.
Authorities noted in the complaint that renting apartments in other’s names is commonly used “by individuals involved in drug trafficking in an attempt to avoid detection by law enforcement.”
Police later learned that the friend who’d asked the lessee to rent the apartment was on probation, and police took that person into custody, according to the complaint. Police learned the individual had dropped “Carlos” off at a home in McKees Rocks, where he was later arrested.
City and federal authorities arrested Sanchez Montalvo about 3 a.m. Monday. Investigators found cash, cellphones, packaging materials, a California driver’s license and the clothes Sanchez Montalvo was seen wearing in the witness’s video.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .