Monday, April 7, 2008
Heroin addiction hits home
The scrappy village of Webster, where I’ve lived for five decades, might be called the best-kept secret in the mid-Mon Valley.
The property taxes there are incredibly low, yet local kids attend Belle Vernon Area School District, which has long been considered the Cadillac of schools in the area. About the only time Rostraver Township police are called to town is when vehicles collide at a confusing set of traffic signals at the entrance to the Donora-Webster Bridge.
We don’t need a newspaper to keep up with weddings or obituaries because most of our 164 neighbors know each other on a first-name basis.
However, we have a dirty little secret that few people whisper about. In the past decade, according to unofficial statistics, we have buried five neighbors who succumbed to their heroin addictions.
It seems that every family, including mine, has become a victim of the tragedies that surround those chasing this drug.
The addicts all seem to be reinventing the wheel by being unable to hold down a job, so they steal from relatives to support their habits. Their families fall to pieces, while some relatives deny the problem exists altogether and others are too embarrassed to face up to the fact that someone they love is skidding out of control.
Along the way, these family members become enablers by their failure to deal with the problem.
The news that neighbor Gerald L. Szakal Jr. had been arrested last month on charges of double homicide left many of us wishing we could have done something to get him the help he needed to quit heroin.
But most of us didn’t know him in the year or so that he lived around the bend and before he was accused of shooting coin dealers Howard and Nancy Springer of Carroll Township.
It wasn’t until the details of the crime began to leak out that I learned that his mother was the former Christeen Mackey, someone I’ve known since she was a girl.
It appears that her 25-year-old son, sick for drugs, decided to kill the Spingers to prevent their records from proving that Szakal had sold them jewelry and coins that he stole from his mother. The day before the murders, he reportedly told his co-defendants that his mother was going to turn him in for the thefts unless he entered drug rehabilitation.
Now, her son’s relatives on his father’s side of the family are blaming her for Szakal’s arrest. It’s a shame, because her heart bleeds for her son, whom she still loves, a son who faces the death penalty in the case.
Justice will be served, no doubt, but no one is going to come out better from this tragedy. If only someone could give us the right approaches for dealing with heroin addictions.
(Caption: Gerald L. Szakal Jr. is led to his preliminary hearing in March to face charges in a double slaying.)