Sunday, January 21, 2018
Public safety

Hundreds gather at Largo vigil to remember those lost to prescription drug abuse

LARGO — Robin Wikle gazed out at hundreds of dimly lit faces and told the story of how her nightmare began.

With a quiver in her voice, the Pinellas County School Board chairwoman told of the excuses she made — lies that she told herself — in order to avoid admitting that her oldest son, Wesley, had a problem with prescription drugs.

"I'm here to ask you to take your head out of the sand," Wikle said. "I wish someone had told me this six years ago."

Wikle was one of a dozen people to address the fourth annual Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education candlelight vigil Thursday night at Largo Central Park. The event, one of several throughout Florida, drew more than 500 attendees, including many who had lost family members or friends to drug abuse.

Though NOPE seeks to prevent and combat drug abuse of all kinds, the theme of the night was prescription drugs, by far the most common cause of narcotics-related deaths in Pinellas County.

"This is a problem unlike any other problem we've faced," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

He explained that many people addicted to prescription drugs got hooked unintentionally after they were prescribed medication for an injury. He noted the various efforts his agency has enacted to curb the problem, including drug "take-back" events and jail rehabilitation programs. But they can only do so much, the sheriff said.

"We cannot stop this problem, because it's an addiction problem," Gualtieri said.

The numbers are striking.

Out of 217 people who died in Pinellas County in 2011 from an accidental drug overdose, 181 were the result of prescription drugs.

Also striking are the ages of some of those who have died. Hundreds of names and pictures were continuously displayed on a large screen next to the stage.

Heather York, 20. Steven Wimberly, 18. Landon Corabek, 17. Colby Crutchfield, 13 …

"I chose denial for far too long," Wikle said. "Our nightmare begins with my head in the sand."

For Wesley, it began with a car wreck outside his school, after which he was prescribed medication, she said. When he stopped coming home, Wikle told herself he was out with friends. When he slept endlessly, she said it was because he was a growing young man. When she found money missing from her purse, it was because she forgot to go to the ATM.

Her denial ended when her son was convicted on prescription fraud charges and sentenced to three years in prison.

Other speakers spoke of losing loved ones and called on parents to talk to their children about prescription drugs.

Lock up your medications. Dispose of medications you don't use.

Michael Bell never had any idea his daughter, Rachel Gravitt, was using prescription drugs. The 27-year-old was already dead in the emergency room when he got the call in March 2010 and learned what had happened.

Thursday night Bell perused a lighted memorial wall alongside the gathering, where family and friends posted messages over more photos, more names. He has attended the vigil each year since his daughter's death.

"It's going to save somebody," he said. "That's the most important thing."

Dan Sullivan can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or [email protected]


Hillsborough diver who died in Eagle’s Nest Cave was adventurous but experienced

Davin Brannon was a pilot, a spearfisherman, an avid cave and open-water diver and an experienced all-around adventurer, said those close to him ."I guess you could say he died doing what he loved," his cousin Pam Kirven said. "But I also know he’d n...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Deputies: 18-year-old speeding on U.S. 19 faces charges of DUI, fleeing scene

PALM HARBOR — A speeding driver on U.S. 19 refused to stop for deputies and took off, later rear-ending a car and injuring three people early Sunday morning, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.A little after 1:30 a.m., Kingzig Montanez...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Woman dies after falling ‘several decks’ from a balcony on a Carnival cruise

Woman dies after falling ‘several decks’ from a balcony on a Carnival cruise

A woman sailing on a Carnival Cruise Line ship from Jacksonville fell from her cabin’s balcony and died Friday.Doral-based Carnival Cruise Line spokesman Vance Gulliksen confirmed the death Saturday, saying in a statement that the incident occurred e...
Published: 01/21/18
Diver from Dover dies in treacherous Eagle’s Nest cave

Diver from Dover dies in treacherous Eagle’s Nest cave

WEEKI WACHEE — The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday investigated the death of a Hillsborough County man in the Eagle’s Nest, an underwater network of caves where at least 11 others have died since 1981.Even experienced divers have lost th...
Published: 01/20/18

Bicyclist dead after being hit by car in Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — A bicyclist is dead after he was hit by a car just before 10 a.m. Saturday morning, police said.Police were still investigating the crash in the 8700 block of 49th Street N late Saturday morning.Police shut down northbound 49th Street...
Published: 01/20/18

Motorcyclist crashes into Subaru while trying to flee Pinellas deputies

CLEARWATER — A 21-year-old fleeing from deputies on a motorcycle crashed into car while speeding away from a cruiser Friday, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Michael Brown, of Clearwater, was recklessly driving his 2016...
Published: 01/20/18

Clearwater man in critical condition after medical episode while driving

DUNEDIN — A 60-year-old Clearwater man who likely had a medical episode while driving is now in the hospital with life-threatening injuries after rolling over his car, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. A Largo police off...
Published: 01/20/18

Four people linked to Tampa carjacking captured hours later

TAMPA — It took officers just 27 minutes Friday night to capture four people who they said stole a car from its owner.The incident started outside the Ybor Coffee Shop at 5:45 a.m. A group approached the driver as he sat in his 2010 Toyota Corolla. T...
Published: 01/19/18

Florida National Guard soldier killed, five injured in Sebring crash

SEBRING — A soldier with the Florida National Guard was killed and five others were hospitalized after a multi-vehicle crash on Friday, officials said.The crash took place at about 1 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Hammock Road.The soldiers ...
Published: 01/19/18
Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two New Port Richey men face charges after Pasco County deputies say they stole about $11,000 worth of cellphones and cellphone equipment at a Metro PCS store on State Road 54.Robert Jackson and Ronald Hartshorn were arrested Wednes...
Published: 01/19/18