Between sobs a northwest Ohio woman recounted the events and poor decisions which turned her “perfect life” upside down.
Mercedes shared the events that would alter her life and those of two families at the Never Let Go Luncheon of Hope event in Edgerton May 6. This was the third year for the event, but the first outside of St. Mary Catholic Church.
The gym at the Edgerton Village Hall sat nearly 200 people to hear testimonies of people who suffered from various addictions. Amid the talks from former addicts, a representative of the Man Unit spoke on the fight against drugs and how law enforcement has changed its approach to drug use.
This was the first time Mercedes had ever spoken publicly about events of the night Kaleb McLauhglin died.
Having Kaleb in her life had made everything perfect, she said. She knew Kaleb was the right person for her and he was going to be her soul mate for life.
Being with Kaleb gave Mercedes butterflies and took all the worries she had away. Her family loved Kaleb like a son and he was always welcome at their house.
But a series of bad decisions lead to the moment that changed her future forever.
“One decision you make takes it all away in one second,” Mercedes said. “Nothing will bring Kaleb back.”
The couple had spent the day with her family before Kaleb wanted to show off his new truck to his friends. The underage pair started drinking beer (something they had done before).
While she had stopped drinking before she got behind the wheel, Mercedes said she did not give it a second thought because she had done so many times before and gotten home safely.
On the way home, she lost control of the truck and came to rest in a field. The truck stopped in a field, but she couldn’t locate Kaleb.
Kaleb was ejected, but she remained in the truck.
Mercedes tried to find Kaleb in the dark, but couldn’t. She ran to the nearest house and had the residents call 911. She learned later Kaleb had passed away.
“My best friend is dead,” Mercedes recalled saying at the scene. “He’s gone and it’s my fault.”
Mercedes said she injured her foot in the crash and did go to the hospital. Her story continued being charged with causing a death and vehicular manslaughter.
She took full responsibility and admitted to being convicted of vehicular manslaughter.
Mercedes recalled how people had always told her to call if she was too drunk to drive home and how she ignored those calls.
She thought driving after having a few beers was acceptable, but now I have to go through life with that memory.
Never Let Go Ministry Founder Mary Juarez shared her story of her son Marjoe who had graduated from high school in the same gym two decades ago. It was Marjoe’s death from an overdose of pills after being cleansed of his addiction to narcotics which led her to start the ministry.
For Mary Juarez, the message is simple. Addiction is real and people are not tempted because they are evil, but because they are human.
For David Birdsall, he told the all-too-familiar tale of getting into drugs. His story’s turning point came while being out on a bond for a manufacturing methamphetamine charge.
While that in itself is a miracle, Birdsall said, the turning point came after 16 months of battling the charge; he got drunk and woke up in jail. He had had assaulted a police officer, a felony, and it looked like his life was going to be spent in prison.
But he said he turned his life over to Jesus Christ and asked the Lord to take his addictions away. He cited another miracle when his court date had come, in late December, a visiting judge presided. The judge knew Birdsall’s attorney and gave him bond again.
“I had five months to stabilize my relationship with my family,” Birdsall said. “I did spend three years and three months in state prison, but God put the right people in my path.”
During this timeframe he met his wife, Diamond, and they have been clean together for more than two years. Diamond also talked about her fight with alcohol.
They are now celebrating two years of marriage.
Chris Gibson shared how he had come out of drug lifestyle and was making progress.
A Wauseon mom shared how her son lost his battle with heroin and died.
Jeremy Viers of the Man Unit talked about how law enforcement is working to get low-level users to get treatment in lieu of incarceration. Ohio has become ground zero for heroin deaths and something has to change.
Viers are in the midst of his second tour with the Man Unit. During his first go-around, he said there was no heroin in the area. At the time Williams County was second in the state for meth labs.
In 2005, oxycotin was the big drug. From 2007-10 there were no heroin overdoses. That began to change in 2014 when there 11.
That number has jumped to 62 in 2016 and could be double or triple that in 2017, Viers said.
Users are now doing a combination of meth and heroin, where the former is used to wake up and the latter to go to sleep.
Nowadays 44 percent of the county’s felony indictments are drug related.
But dealing with the drug problem is not a one-size fits all approach. Society can’t just put people into prison, because that becomes a repetitive cycle, Viers said.
The problem is when someone is arrested for heroin, it will take 3-4 months to get the results back from the lab, giving the person plenty of time to re-offend, Viers said.
Heroin itself has changed with the introduction of fetanyl which can make it stronger and deadlier. A new form of fetanyl-laced heroin is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, Viers said.
Tools like the Drug Court in Williams County are now helping get people the help they need to get clean.
But for a person to get and stay clean, they have to want it, he said.
“They need a deep spiritual connection,” Viers said.