4 months later, the lesson of teen’s fentanyl death conveyed with billboards

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET)  — Destiny Ayala might be gone but she’s about as present today as she can be: on the volleyball court with her old East High teammates, in the hearts of the people who loved her, like her former coaches, and soon, coming to a billboard near you.

One day after the 18-year-old woman graduated from high school last June, she ingested fentanyl at a graduation party, most likely not knowing what she was taking. She died a few days later. 

The East High volleyball team she played for last year has used her energy and her spirit to guide them this season and it has paid off on the court. They’re having what coach Johnitta Clemons calls a miracle season: 10 wins in a row now and their first league title since 1987.

They host a section semifinal match Tuesday night, and Destiny, in her coach’s words, is their “seventh man.”

“Most of my players have known Destiny all of their lives, so this loss was extremely personal for us,” Clemons said. “So we decided at the beginning of the season to dedicate our season to her, to work hard and to have fun the way that she played. Because she was a hard worker but she also had fun every second of her life.”

But Destiny’s presence is bigger than that. Her image will soon grace three billboards around Bakersfield. Her picture will be on billboards intended to tell teens—tell everyone—that fentanyl kills without regard to age, place in life, or promise for the future. 

The illicit synthetic opioid is killing people with ruthless efficiency. At least 250 in Kern County since January 2020 and about 120 people this year have died due to fentanyl overdoses. 

Lt. Ryan Kroeker of the Bakersfield Police Department is working with Destiny’s coaches and family to spread the word about fentanyl, which is being mixed with every street drug imaginable, from meth to counterfeit Xanax to marijuana.

Destiny’s lesson: this can happen to anyone.

“We naturally grieve in different ways,” Kroeker said. “And what better way to grieve for something like that than to do something productive and proactive so help ensure, or at least be a part, of a spoken will that says, ‘This isn’t going to happen to another person.’”

Destiny has been improving and saving lives through tissue donation these past four months. She donated a kidney to a teammate’s father, but she’s not done. The billboard campaign—signs donated by Sun Outdoor—is designed to educate in a personal, impactful way.

“To really get through this and get past this we have to partner as a community as a whole, it isn’t just a police problem this is a community problem,” Kroeker said.

Destiny’s memory is everywhere in her coach’s world these days, from the butterfly logo on team sportswear  inspired by Destiny’s volleyball serving motion, to the gift wind chime dedicated to her memory.

Destiny Ayala didn’t just leave her community with memories, she left it with a lesson too.

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