- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

YORK, Pa. (AP) - On a cold, wintry afternoon, a trio of police officers joined paramedics at the home of another first responder, Patrick Hinds, a comrade desperate to save his son Zach from a drug overdose.

They all know these calls well, but Hinds had never been on this side. He’d been to the parking lots and quiet suburban homes, rushing to save unresponsive victims, but this time it was his home and his youngest son, slipping away with a familiar culprit: heroin.

On that January day two years ago, Hinds had been on the bottom level of his split-level Manor Street home, alone and likely perched in front of the television. He was home from his job as a police officer for West Manchester, the same township where he lives. His wife, Vonnie, was upstairs, preparing dinner.

Suddenly, their dog, Delilah, started causing a commotion, running down the hall toward 19-year-old Zach’s bedroom door. The moment put Zach and his parents on a collision course.

Vonnie screamed for Hinds. He bounded up the stairs.

At 53, Hinds is into his third decade as a police officer. The stresses of the job seem to have left little impact on his personality - a wise-cracking, scruffy-voiced Pennsylvanian who gets his self-described gregarious nature from his mother.

The job, though, has left a physical mark. A light scar stretches across his right cheek, near a light blond mustache and beneath his blue eyes, the trail left by a bullet in 1995 during a standoff at a domestic call.

In those days, Hinds made mostly marijuana arrests. He saw crack and cocaine, too. Early in his career, Hinds couldn’t help but think: Why do we as a culture have an insatiable desire to numb ourselves?

“Life is hard, but are drugs the answer?” he thought.

Then, heroin showed up.

He said he looked down at heroin addicts. He saw addiction as a character flaw.

“I know in myself whenever some type of difficult situation came up, I always prided myself in the fact that you buckled down,” Hinds said.

If you really want to get away from this stuff, you will. That was his thinking.

But now his son was passed out on the floor of his bedroom. The cop and the father had to face a reckoning.

He called 911. Hinds placed his son into a recovery position. He opened the bedroom window, letting in the cold, fresh air. Later in his career, he would revive two people with naloxone. But that afternoon at home, he had to wait for paramedics. Zach’s friend was also unconscious in the room. Both had just shot up. Hinds screamed at his son, slapped his face.

Zach woke up. His friend had to be revived by paramedics.

“My entire whole body was like I got hit with a live wire when I found the two of them in there,” Hinds said. “It was afterwards when you start thinking about it a lot more.”

Hinds worked through the tough questions: How didn’t I see this? Why didn’t my wife see this coming?

Zach’s overdose marked the culmination of years of heroin, drug and alcohol use. Hinds admits there was some denial on his part when it came to Zach’s drug use. And after the overdose, there was embarrassment, too.

He and his wife started thinking if they just loved a little more, cared a little more, the problem might take care of itself. Hinds held on to the belief that his son would stop using.

The couple’s next eldest son, Aaron, was also battling heroin addiction. Vonnie had known about it for a couple of years, but kept it from Hinds.

A year after Zach’s overdose, Hinds was again calling in the first responders: he called his police station to have his son Aaron arrested for stealing from them. Once again, heroin had the cops at the Hinds’ front door steps.


Before heroin, the Hinds family struggled through a different near-death experience.

West Manchester officers responded to a domestic call on Lark Drive. The call turned into a standoff with an armed Robert Fegely Sr. Hinds found cover behind a shed. But Fegely fired toward him and a bullet pierced the shed and struck Hinds in the face. Fegely killed himself that day.

Each of Hinds‘ four sons was still young at the time: one, also named Patrick, was in the first grade; Chadd was in kindergarten. Aaron was 3 years old and Zach was 6 weeks.

At home, on Christmas, just four days after the shooting, Aaron was recorded on camera, opening gifts. Each time, he said, “Daddy’s going to be OK.”

What long-term impacts the shooting had on the boys is unclear to Hinds and Vonnie, including whether it contributed to Aaron and Zach’s later drug use. And while the shooting was a clear sign of the job’s dangers, son Patrick still followed his father’s footsteps into policing. And Chadd may do so, as well.

So when it comes to drug use, Vonnie and Hinds instead point to cultural changes and the prevalence of heroin, and how it seems nowadays more kids are shooting dope than smoking marijuana.

To Zach’s dad, drugs were all but an afterthought growing up. Hinds knew he wanted to be in law enforcement so, shortly before graduating from high school in Perry County, he enlisted in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. The jobs came with strict drug policies. One deployment, to Lithuania, opened him up to the destruction a war can leave behind.

The experiences left him thinking: when people complain in the United States, they “have no idea how bad things can be.”

On April 1, 1985, he got his first full-time job, a patrolman with West Manchester. He and Vonnie moved to York County. He enjoyed the public service aspect of policing. He could talk through problems with people.

His youngest took a different path.

Zach smoked weed for the first time when he was 11. His parents were away on vacation. Patrick, Zach’s oldest brother, left soon after their parent’s vacation for the Marines.

In middle school, Zach progressed to hallucinogenics. By ninth grade, he was using heroin, at first with Aaron. As a junior in high school, Zach was facing criminal charges related to his drug and alcohol use. He broke into his high school, West York, after getting drunk one night.

Brothers Chadd and Patrick landed on careers in law enforcement - Patrick is a cop in Chambersburg; Chadd is out of the police academy and looking for work.

But Zach became the picture of the drug addict his father looked down upon. Now 21, Zach carries two sobriety dates with him. Shortly after his brother’s arrest, he went into detox. He marks his first sober date as Jan. 23, 2016, the day after he went to a recovery house high on heroin. He was clean for about 15 months. On May 4, he said, he slipped up. He got high after work.

Zach has no problem talking about his years struggling with drug addiction.

“If you had asked me if I thought I was hurting anybody but myself, I would have told you no,” Zach told a group of York County 911 dispatchers last month. “I didn’t realize I have parents that love me. I have brothers that love me.”

This is Zach today: touring York County with the nonprofit Not One More, sharing his story. It’s one way, he says, to help stay clean. The idea that his story can help someone else is a motivation to continue talking.

But he’s still learning. After his stumble earlier this month, he learned that he has to have the right intentions while approaching recovery. He can’t be afraid of what it would be like if he wasn’t clean.

He remembers when he was younger, getting thrown into a friend’s pool. He hit a volleyball net and got caught up underwater and couldn’t get out. The only thing he wanted was air. That’s how it was when he was using: the only thing he wanted was to get high.

And that’s how he views recovery: “You have to go at it with the desperation of a drowning man.”

While Zach had a group of people willing to listen, so did his father. At work, Hinds didn’t have to go far to find someone else to connect with.

West Manchester Officer Keith Roehm was among the cops who responded on Zach’s overdose. He and Hinds have worked together for 27 years. Roehm’s own children struggled with drug addiction. His daughter, Kayla, died two years ago from complications of liver disease. Roehm believes substance abuse, and using heroin, contributed to her death.

Roehm sent Hinds a text message shortly after Zach’s overdose: I’m here for you if you want to talk.

The Hinds family received similar calls from the department’s chief of police, Arthur Smith Jr., who checked in to see how they were doing.

Entering the Hinds house that January afternoon, Roehm could have been the officer who judged. Instead, he was the officer willing to lend his ear. They could share as fathers, and police officers.

“As a police officer, it puts us in a bind because here we are working on this side of the law and our kids are on the other side,” Roehm said.

But Roehm has seen Hinds become more empathetic on calls and arrests. When dealing with someone addicted to drugs, it becomes a matter of listening, and understanding.

“You want to help this person a lot more than you did before,” Roehm said.


Hinds makes sure not to compare his two sons who struggle with addiction. And if Zach’s overdose was difficult, the confluence of Hinds‘ job and role as a father faced another test.

In January 2016, Hinds had Aaron arrested for stealing from them to support his habit. He called the police station, and Aaron was handcuffed and charged.

Hinds realizes Zach is on his own path. Aaron is, too. Aaron has been in and out of rehab a few times. In April, he was admitted to a halfway house near Philadelphia.

Every so often, Zach takes Hinds and Vonnie out to breakfast or dinner. He asks his father’s advice, although he may not follow everything he’s told - he asked, for example, if he should get a car or motorcycle. Hinds advised car; Zach chose motorcycle.

They talk more about Zach’s addiction. They check in to make sure he goes to meetings and meets with his sponsor.

Zach plans to share his story at the West Manchester Township police station. Vonnie plans to go. Hinds won’t.

Hinds admits it would be uncomfortable for him to be there, but that’s not what’s holding him back.

Hinds, a sergeant, wants his officers to learn and ask questions. He worries that if he’s there, his officers wouldn’t freely ask questions with their supervisor around.

Hinds has been there to hear Zach talk. It was hard. Zach doesn’t spare many details. Using heroin with his brother Aaron. Stealing stuff with his friends. Stories of deception to get drugs. It was a story Hinds didn’t know.

But it has changed the police sergeant. He recognizes addiction like many others do, that it’s a disease where people typically can’t just stop using.

Hinds still goes on overdose calls. He carries with him pamphlets with information on how to get help, and hands them out to families if they are open to it.

He and Vonnie attend recovery meetings for parents.

When an overdose call comes across his radio, Hinds can’t help but think it could be one of his sons. He rushes to the calls because he knows another family will be going through what he went through.

For now, Zach will keep sharing his story. His father will keep listening.

“I wish I could be brave as him,” Hinds said.





Information from: York Daily Record, https://www.ydr.com

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