Too scared to go outside alone, 14-year-old Gabby McCord asks her mother to watch her as she walks the few steps from the back door to the trash can on their Washington Court House property.
“She can’t even take the trash out alone. She asks me to watch her if she has to go outside,” said McCord’s mother, Linda Pac.
Pac, 54, and her daughter have lived in the Fayette County community their whole lives. But things are different today than they were a few years ago. Today the mother and her daughter say they can’t enjoy their Market Street neighborhood, nor do they really have much of a community neighborhood in the area anymore.
McCord is an eighth grade student at Miami Trace Middle School. She not only asks her mother to watch her while she walks the garbage out to the trash can each day, but she and her mother never go outside to take a walk, play in the yard or sit on the porch.
Three years ago, they say things started to go bad in their neighborhood.
First, it was the increased foot traffic going in and out of the rental properties that border the alley and their home. The foot traffic into the rental properties hasn’t stopped since.
“I saw 50-60 people in and out and it’s constant. Me and the neighbors know they are doing drugs back there. It’s constant. It’s like a drive-thru in this alley,” said Pac.
Neighbors in the vicinity of the 900 block of Market Street tell the same story. At the other end of the alley, other neighbors said the drug traffic is constant through the alley. The perimeter of their yard is fenced in and cameras are posted at every corner.
“We’ve turned into prisoners in our own home,” said the neighbor, who only agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity because of a fear of retribution.
The second, and most disturbing development for the neighbors to occur in the neighborhood, are the recent deaths.
“It’s gotten really bad in the last six months,” said Pac and her daughter.
Last week, two people died inside apartment E on the second-story up a flight of wooden stairs at the back of the two-unit building in the alley.
At least three drug overdoses were reported in the apartment in the past week. Two deaths were confirmed inside apartment E in less than 24 hours last week.
“Wednesday, he overdosed and they saved him. Then they were back there again the following Monday (Feb. 6) and I was told…he was dead, he just overdosed,” said Pac.
The Washington Court House Police Department was called to apartment E at 6:48 p.m. Feb. 6. The caller said a man was not breathing. Upon arrival, officers found Richard D. Rittenhouse unconscious. He was transported to the hospital and pronounced dead.
While investigating the Rittenhouse incident, a second person inside apartment E, Donna Bennett, became unresponsive. She too was transported to the hospital. The police said she survived.
“And then Tuesday night, we’re sitting here eating supper, and my daughter is like, ‘Mom, the cops are going down the alley again.’ I was like, oh no, not again,” said Pac.
In Hillsboro, the problem hasn’t reached the proportion of that facing Washington Court House, but local police are aware and are on alert, said Sgt. Steve Browder, acting HPD police chief.
“We haven’t had any deaths lately” from overdoses, Browder said Monday. “We’ve had a few overdoses. They’re sporadic. But nothing like Columbus and Court House, where they’re just having one after another.”
But Browder said his officers have discussed the spike in overdoses in nearby Court House.
“We’re very concerned because it is neighboring us,” he said. “I’m sure in the drug community those people have contact with each other.”
Greenfield Police Chief Jim Oyer said Monday his department has not seen a spike in fatal overdoses, but he is concerned because what happens in Court House “tends to filter down our way.”
He said there had not been been a fatal drug overdose in Greenfield in more than a month, but the department deals with overdose victims every week.
“Sometimes it’s two a week, sometimes it’s three in a day,” said Oyer.
Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera said Monday he hasn’t seen a spike in fatal overdoses, but general overdose problems continue. He said that in 2016 his office fielded 165 emergency calls for overdoses, with 21 such calls so far this year as of last week, and “I know there have been four or five since then.”
He said the mixture of heroin and Fentanyl is “nasty stuff,” leading to a more toxic drug, but “we’re not seeing a big spike (in fatalities) like Fayette County.”
As reported last week, Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins recently brought charges of involuntary manslaughter against two individuals for allegedly providing drugs to others that resulted in deaths. She also cited the addition of Fentanyl as a contributing factor.
“Typically, overdoses happen because they’re buying what they think is one thing, but it turns out to be something else,” said Collins.
In Washington Court House, police were called to apartment E again at 4:49 p.m. last Tuesday. The caller told police that she came to check on Donna Bennett after she failed to answer her phone or texts. Bennett had died.
Police found a plate with a snort straw, pink powder residue and a folded post-it note with an off-white powder inside. The caller said that Bennett had said she and Rittenhouse had purchased the drugs from the neighbors in the downstairs apartment unit.
Lt. Rusty Lowe with the Washington C.H. Police Department said their drug arrests are “through the roof” and officers spent the previous weekend running from call to call.
Pac said she was shocked to see a neighbor brought out in a body bag. Her daughter, McCord, the eighth grade student at Miami Trace Middle School, said the increased drug activity is impacting her.
When asked if anyone talks about the drug epidemic at school, McCord said, “Maybe at lunch, people talk about it, but not that often.”
The drug traffic, overdoses and deaths are happening so often that Pac and the other neighbors in the area are looking at where to move to next.
“She was crying the other night. I constantly hear from her, I want to move. She wants to move, she’s scared, she was crying the other night upset about everything that was going on back there. I don’t want her to be upset. I want her to have a good childhood, period,” said Pac.
Pac said her other daughter is a realtor, and Pac and her daughter will be moving out of Washington C.H. as soon as the sale papers are signed on a new house.
“I’m moving. My neighbor said he is too. I said I’m getting out of this town. I’m not doing this anymore. It makes me nervous because I worry about my daughter. We don’t do stuff like that and I don’t want her exposed to stuff like that,” Pac said.
Reach Ashley at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton. Gary Abernathy contributed to this story.