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'I wish he was still here': candlelight vigil honors lives lost to overdose

ELKTON — Her fiance. Her soul mate. His fellow combat veteran. Her best friend’s son. Her own son.

Friends, family and community members gathered at dusk on Monday at Elkmore Marina on the banks of the Elk River to light candles remembering these and other lives lost to overdose. Voices of Hope, a nonprofit which supports addiction recovery in Cecil County and throughout Maryland, organized the seventh annual vigil.

Cecil County lost 59 lives to overdose during 2019, and Voices of Hope Peer Recovery Specialist Brittany Graves worries that number will be much higher during 2020, in part because coronavirus creates additional challenges to those who use substances like heroin and opioids.

“Everybody is isolated,” Graves said. “When you use, sometimes that just pushes you a little further.”

After months of outreach and education through Zoom, Voices of Hope decided that the vigil should take place in person. Graves hoped the gathering would show those struggling with addiction or the loss of a loved one to overdose that they are not alone.

“It’s been hard for the families because usually throughout the year, if an overdose happens we try to reach out to them and go see them. With COVID, we can’t do that,” she said. “It’s just really important for us to come together in one area because you need that connection. There’s a connection you don’t get on the computer.”

New Beginnings Christian Fellowship Pastor Phil Meekins led a prayer, and a number of attendees shared words about the loved ones they lost to overdose.

One woman lost her son in October.

He was an avid reader and wanted to become a neuroscientist to help others fight addiction, a disease which affects the brain’s neural pathways. She said that he used Narcan, a narcotic which can be used in emergencies to treat overdose, to save the lives of two friends in the months before his death, and used Saran wrap to save a stranger who suffered stab wounds.

“Three people are still alive on this planet because of my kid,” she said. “I wish he was still here.”

Another woman spoke about her fiance, who overdosed in 2014.

He was a great guy, she said, and had everything going for him. He worked building houses, and started taking pain medication after a bad fall hurt his back. As the pain went away, he began using heroin and passed away on the way to the hospital after an overdose. Years later, she herself overdosed and woke up to see her pregnant daughter crying.

“That sent me on the road to getting clean, and thank God I’m here today,” she said. “My granddaughter was born and I was still here for it. Whatever you do, just keep working at recovering.”

As they spoke, others wrote the names of their own lost loved ones on colorful paper bags, along with messages of remembrance. The bags were each illuminated with small electrical candles and arranged in a heart as the sun set. Rob and David Massimiano played music while attendees chatted, and then Pastor Meekins closed the night with a prayer.

Jennifer Lepore is a Voices of Hope organizer who hosts Healing Hearts, a small group meeting on the first and third Wednesday of every month for anyone who has lost a loved one to overdose or substance abuse. She said people often feel isolated or judged when they go through that loss.

“Coming to an event like this — you’re seeing a lot of people, you’re seeing a lot of families, all different ages, different incomes. Everybody’s different, but they all have that in common,” she said. “It makes you feel better knowing other people understand where you are and what you’ve been through.”

Lepore and her fellow Voices of Hope organizer Lynn Jones emphasized that building community in person is critical amid the challenges of the pandemic, especially given reports that the number of overdose deaths in the county this year may rise sharply from 2019.

After losing her son, Jones said, she relied on others who reached out and helped her through her grief. Now, she’s working to help others.

“There’s lots of other people — parents, brothers and sisters, friends — whose loved ones have died of overdose,” Jones said. “You are not alone.”

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Police search of Elkton-area home nets pound of heroin, two arrests

ELKTON — A couple is facing numerous drug charges after investigators confiscated more than one pound of suspect heron mixed with fentanyl — parceled into 1,334 baggies — from inside an Elkton-area mobile home, according to Cecil County District Court records.

Investigators identified the suspects as Rodney Austin Messick, 45, and his girlfriend, Ashley Marie Hammons, 31, who live together at a residence in the unit block of Pinder Avenue in the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park off Old Philadelphia Road (Route 7), west of Elkton.

The investigation leading to their arrests started at approximately 11 a.m. on Wednesday, when Cecil County Sheriff’s Office Sr. Deputy Joseph McCabe and Dfc. Brian Bravo spotted Messick standing in front of his residence while patrolling the mobile home park, police reported.

A computer check on Messick, whom the deputies positively identified, revealed that he was wanted on a bench warrant for allegedly failing to appear for a courtroom hearing on Aug. 18, some eight days earlier, police said.

After Messick noticed the patrolling deputies, police added, he ran from the front lawn into his residence, prompting McCabe to follow him.

“Sr. Deputy McCabe knocked on the front door of the residence, announcing his presence and commanding Messick to come outside. Sr. Deputy McCabe heard a ‘click’ sound come from the locking mechanism on the door . . . Sr. Deputy McCabe then attempted to open the door by turning the knob, but it had been locked. At this time, Sr. Deputy McCabe utilized his right foot to kick the door down, making entry into the residence,” charging documents outline.

Once inside, McCabe and other deputies detained Messick and Hammons in the living room, along with two other women, ages 66 and 32, both of whom were not charged after the investigation, court records show.

While in the living room, the deputies noticed a clear plastic bag holding “a large quantity of blue in color wax paper bags” that contained suspect heroin mixed with fentanyl, police said, adding that the alleged contraband was “in plain view.”

McCabe then left the scene and obtained a search warrant, based on what had been seen by the deputies, and that led to a court-approved search of the residence at approximately 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, according to court records. Cecil County Drug Task Force agents assisted McCabe and Bravo during the search, court records show.

Investigators found a total of 90 “bundles” at various locations inside the mobile home, including the couple’s bedroom, their bathroom and the kitchen, and each held numerous packets of suspect heroin/fentanyl, court records allege.

Inside the bathroom air register, for example, searchers found 35 bundles holding 524 baggies of suspect heroin/fentanyl bearing a “Sin City” street brand stamp, police said. In that same spot, police added, investigators also found 30 additional bundles containing 424 packets of suspect heroin/fentanyl, each marked with a “Target” street brand name stamp.

In addition, court records allege that investigators confiscated 95 baggies of suspect heroin/fentanyl parceled into six bundles, with those packets bearing a “Flintstones” street brand stamp, and 176 more “Target” baggies packaged in 12 bundles – all of which were found in the couple’s bedroom.

The suspect heroin/fentanyl found in those 1,334 baggies had a combined weight of 513 grams, which translates to approximately one pound, two ounces, court records allege. There are about 453 grams in one pound.

Investigators also seized five grams of suspect methamphetamine and a digital scale containing “trace amounts” of suspect meth, court records allege.

Messick and Hammons are each facing nine charges, including possession of a large amount of heroin mixed with fentanyl and possession of heroin/fentanyl with intent to distribute, according to court records, which show that Messick and Hammons are scheduled for preliminary hearings on Sept. 23 and Sept. 21 respectively.

After his bail review hearing on Thursday, Messick remains in the Cecil County Detention Center without bond, court records show. Hammons is free after posting a $35,000 bond, according to court records.

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APG announces new directors of advertising

EASTON — After engaging in a nationwide search, attracting a significant number of top-level advertising and marketing leaders, APG Chesapeake announces William “Bill” Cotter as the new regional director of advertising.

“We are extremely fortunate to have recruited Bill to join our incredibly talented team of associates, as well as our valued advertising and marketing clients and partners across Maryland, the District of Columbia, Delaware and Virginia,” said APG Media of Chesapeake Regional President Jim Normandin. “He brings a vast amount of multi-dimensional knowledge of digital, social and print marketing experience to our talented team at APG Chesapeake.”

Cotter has excelled in executive level advertising and marketing leadership roles for the last 30 years in the Pittsburgh metro area. He currently leads Total Trib Media in Pittsburgh as director of advertising. Cotter earned his bachelor’s degree in communications at Clarion University of Pennsylvania and sits on the Pitt News Advisory Board at the University of Pittsburgh, among numerous other industry and community associations.

His move to the Eastern Shore will allow him to be closer to his brother, who lives in St. Michaels, and both his daughter and son who also live in neighboring cities to the APG Chesapeake footprint. He and his wife Jeanne Cotter are looking forward to moving to the Eastern Shore and becoming active throughout the Mid-Shore where they will reside.

In addition, APG Chesapeake announces the promotion of Betsy Griffin to Advertising Sales Director and Tyler Edwards to Digital and Marketing Sales Director, effective immediately.

For ten years, Griffin has excelled in key sales leadership roles throughout APG Chesapeake. She joined Chesapeake Publishing, now APG Chesapeake, as the Regional Sales Training Manager hailing from The News Virginian in Waynesboro, Virginia. Griffin earned her bachelor’s degree from Mary Baldwin College. She currently serves as chairwoman of the APG-wide Revenue Task Force Performance Committee, and serves on the APG-wide Executive Committee as well as the RTF Nationals Committee.

Griffin is a past president of the YMCA of the Chesapeake, a graduate of the Shore Leadership Program and a past board member of the Talbot Chamber of Commerce. She resides in Easton with her husband “Griff” and is the proud mother of August, an army medic in Colorado Springs, and Kate, a senior at Easton High School.

Edwards started at APG Chesapeake in 2014 as an IT and Digital Customer Care Specialist in the IT Department. After discovering a passion for digital marketing and advertising, he joined APG Chesapeake’s digital agency, NXC Media in 2017. Edwards’ success in spearheading the digital division led him to become the digital sales manager for APG Chesapeake earlier this year. His primary focus is the continual expansion and evolution of APG Chesapeake’s digital properties and platforms.

Growing up in Grasonville, Edwards has lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland his entire life. He is inspired daily by his wife Diana, their son Samuel, and their daughter Rebecca.

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North East running baby Taylor Danglade rushes with the football during his team’s 42-36 loss to visiting Patterson Mill in Susquehanna Division football action on Friday.

Peggy Smith, Jean Kutcher and Peggy Dillner — all members of local chapters of Dining for Women — sit at a table on Dillner’s back porch Wednesday.

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Traci Bauer named Adams Publishing Group VP Print/Digital Content

Traci Bauer, a veteran editor and digital strategist who has worked in several markets over more than 20 years, is named to a new position at Adams Publishing Group.

Mark Adams, APG President/CEO said, “As APG continues its evolution into a multi-platform media organization; we felt it was time to establish a dedicated position to develop and engage APG’s growing print/digital audience. Her focus will be growing the number of page views and unique users visiting our websites and print/digital subscriptions. The position plays an important part in APG’s digital content strategy.”

Bauer started her career as a reporter in Springfield, Missouri, and was promoted through management ranks with the Gannett Company, primarily in New York.

After her start in Missouri, Bauer led multimedia strategy at Florida Today on the Space Coast, and spent more than a decade in Rochester, New York, where she was a managing editor of The Democrat and Chronicle, and later a digital content executive for the Gannett Company. She spent four years as the executive editor of The Journal News/, in Westchester County, New York. Most recently she has been Director of Journalism for KCUR, Kansas City’s NPR affiliate.

Bauer received her bachelor’s degree in Communication/Journalism from Missouri State University. She earned her master’s degree in Innovation Management from Rochester Institute of Technology.

In addition to her love for local journalism, Bauer is a runner, having completed more than 50 marathons and half marathons (she is currently pursuing a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon). Bauer’s role is effective on August 31, 2020.

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