Benjamin John Oliphant loved music. He found joy in many genres, but was drawn to rap and dance-club music in particular. In that respect, he was just like many teenagers.
In two others ways, he was not. One was that he was a skilled DJ -- especially in the art of old-school record "scratching." It was like Ben stepped out of a Beck record onto the streets of Niagara Falls. Give him "two turntables and a microphone," and a gathering was suddenly a full-blown hip grooving party. All the cool cats and kitties knew that if Ben was laying down the beats, the dance floor was the only place to be.
The other way that Ben was different was that he was autistic. Ben was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.
This is what the KenCrest Organization of Delaware has to say about Asperger's and the difficulties that people who have it face in dealing with day-to-day living:
"Asperger's Syndrome is the mildest and highest-functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome experience problems in social interaction and often have restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities.
"These difficulties may include eye contact, facial expressions and social gestures; poor peer relationships; lack of spontaneous sharing with others; lack of social or emotional give-and-take; preoccupation with certain interests and subjects; inflexible routines or rituals; repetitive movements."
Ben's family believes that a combination of these two differences led to a decline into drug use that cut Ben's life short last year.
On Oct. 19, 2010, Ben was found dead in an apartment on Ashland Avenue in an area known for drug-dealing. The official ruling was that a lethal cocktail of morphine and cocaine ended Ben's life, but his mother believes that the coroner's report might just as easily have read "Died by falling through the cracks."
Maribeth Oliphant still tears up at the memory of her loving son.
"This may sound bitter to you; I wrote it back in 2005, and it details the early years of Ben's life," Maribeth told me as she handing me a paper entitled "Ben's Diagnosis."
The paper talks in vivid detail about Ben's birth, early childhood, and years of misdiagnosis by the teachers and specialists in his school district.
After being misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyslexia and being an underachiever, Ben was finally characterized as having issues that were "attitudinal."
Thankfully, Dr. Prado at the Monsignor Carr Clinic examined Ben and made a very quick and accurate diagnosis of Asperger's.
"I cried a river that night," Maribeth said. "After all of the years of them saying Ben was slow, when he actually tested out two grades ahead of his peers, of them trying to put the blame for his poor grades back on him, it was like a huge weight had been lifted."
By that time, Ben so hated the experience of school he wanted to drop out. It was recommended that he attend Niagara Academy on Saunders Settlement Road in Sanborn. The school is operated by Orleans Niagara BOCES and is designed to provide a "caring and supportive environment that enhances the academic, social, emotional and vocational skills of our students."
"Even though the size of the school scared him a bit, it was a place where he was accepted, and it was a place where he could feel like he was home," Maribeth said.
Ben graduated from Niagara Academy and tried to get into Niagara County Community College, but the experience of the entrance exams was overwhelming.
"There just isn't help for these kids as they transition into adulthood. Ben knew technology, computers and sound like he knew the back of his hand, but when he went in (to the entrance exams) he was so overwhelmed by the new environment that he froze up," Maribeth explained.
Ben took a job at Smokin' Joe's for a time, but soon found himself entwined in a drug culture that links the rural areas and suburbs of Niagara County with the mean streets of Niagara Falls.
"He was taking prescription meds, opiates, ones he was buying on the streets -- Oxycontin and Oxycodone. He was trying to fit in, and drugs helped take away the anxiety he felt," said Maribeth.
It's a dirty little secret that there are a number of people who live in what is considered the "safe" part of Niagara County -- the "white" suburbs and countryside -- who routinely sell their addictive prescription pain medication to drug dealers, who in turn sell the drugs on the streets of Niagara Falls.
Ben fell in with two middle-aged women doing just that as they were trying to keep their Sanborn home from going into foreclosure. Ben did lawn work for the women in return for payment in prescription medication. One of the women would pick Ben up in the middle of the night, drive him to Niagara Falls, and drop him off to sell the drugs from the shadows of alleyways that have seen far too much heartache and early death.
Eventually, prescription meds gave way to cocaine and heroin. Ben's behavior changed, and his mother became alarmed.
She said, "It was like that scene in 'Panic in Needle Park,' where the woman is sitting there almost as if asleep, with her eyes rolled back up in her head. Ben actually looked like that, and it scared me to my core."
After a couple of near misses with drug overdoses, Ben finally took a hit that his body couldn't handle. He'd found out in the last year of his life that he suffered from an enlarged heart, and the drug speedball that he took that fateful evening was too much to overcome.
The details of his final hours are not clearly known and may never be fully understood. What Maribeth does know is that her son was staying in the home of a known drug dealer and had been to her house that afternoon while she was at work. When he arrived at her home, he had a number of drugs and prescriptions with him, including intravenous morphine with a street value of $2,000.
Maribeth's oldest son, Tom, recognized that his brother was high and had a number of illegal drugs in his possession, and threw him out of the house. That decision is a heavy burden he still carries.
"I told him, you can't do that to yourself. If it wasn't that night, it would have been another. We all loved Ben and did what we thought were the best things to do in each moment," Maribeth detailed.
When Ben couldn't be found that night, his father went looking and found Ben's car abandoned on a city street. There was vomit all over the inside of the car. When he knocked on the door of the apartment where Ben was staying, a man answered and responded to the question of if he knew of the young man's whereabouts with words that will forever haunt the Oliphant family: "He dead, man. He dead."
Maribeth Oliphant may never know just what happened the night her son died. The police investigated, but ultimately no criminal charges were filed. What she does know is that there is nothing she can do with the past, save mourning it, but she can impact the future.
Maribeth has partnered with Niagara Academy to establish the Benjamin John Oliphant Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship will benefit kids graduating from the school and help with their transition into secondary education and adulthood. It will also serve to aid in drug-prevention education and to raise awareness of autism and the needs of those afflicted.
The world lost a kind, trusting and talented soul when Ben ascended to the heavens. His demise is a cautionary tale about the need for proper early diagnosis and placement for kids with autism and other developmental disorders, and also illustrates the evil influence of drugs here.
Ben loved music, and his mother hopes that the scholarship created in his honor will help other young adults with autism find the harmony that so sadly eluded him during his brief time on earth.
To make a contribution to the Benjamin John Oliphant Memorial Scholarship, please mail your check or money order to: Benjamin John Oliphant Memorial Scholarship, c/o Niagara Academy, 3181 Saunders Settlement Road, Sanborn, N.Y. 14132.
Tell us about Brian: Like many of you
reading this, you have children that light up your life. Brian was that
for me. He began talking at an early age, and for the next twenty five
years he never stopped. Brian loved the outdoors. Whether with his
friends or his brother Greg, he would play in the woods for hours,
fishing and searching for frogs.
As Brian entered elementary school, his struggles began to emerge. I watched him struggle with so many things we all take for granted; holding a crayon, and simply keeping his balance. When he began middle school he had a hard time paying attention and he began to struggle academically and socially; he felt as if he didn’t fit in. He was originally diagnosed with ADD, however over time this diagnosis included anxiety, depression and traits of Asperger’s.
Brian’s curiosity was endless. We would end our evenings talking endlessly. He would want to know about everything; my favorite memories growing up, how I liked my career, how the people in the Dominican seemed so happy with so little material things.
It is impossible to describe Brian without mentioning his smile. He had the ear to ear to smile that was his trademark.
However, the character trait of Brian of which I am most proud was his compassion for others. I have spoken publicly about his crawling under a fence at Yankee stadium when he was eight to give a homeless man a quarter. His favorite memory of high school was taking a trip to the Dominican Republic on spring break to play with children who had so little. After Brian’s death, his sober coach wrote “After Brian and I had lunch together he gave money to homeless people on the street.” Another friend wrote “his big bright smile, easy approachable demeanor and kind eyes are things that come to mind when I think about Brian. It's a lovely memory.”
Tell us about Brian's struggle with addiction:
Brian and several of his friends tried marijuana for the first time at
age thirteen. While his friends had varying degrees of interest, for
Brian it was different. Maybe the marijuana eased his anxiety. Or
perhaps it was genetic. Whatever the reason or combination of reasons,
Brian quickly became addicted, and is often the case, over time he
became addicted to more dangerous drugs.
Brian was sent to a wilderness program when he was seventeen. Throughout these years, when Brian was not relapsing, he was often reflective. He responded to what he read of Taoist philosophy in a note to me, “’Emotion which is suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.’ It’s similar to what I’m working on.”
Brian was also deeply pained by what he was putting his family through. In one letter to my mother he wrote, “Dear Grandma Kitty, I don’t know what to say about this anymore. I feel horrible that I keep putting everyone through this. Thanks for sticking with me and I’m sorry. Love and miss you, Brian.” Brian’s relapses were many. After his last relapse Brian told me, “Dad, even when I think I have this under control, I have now learned that this disease is doing push-ups inside and getting stronger and stronger.”
After his last treatment program, Brian succeeded and was able to stay clean for thirteen months. However five weeks after his one year anniversary he tragically took his life. In his loving and compassionate note to our family, he condemned the treatment system for its lack of integrity. And although he did not state it explicitly, I believe he also felt enormous shame and guilt that tore him apart inside. It seems like yesterday we were sitting on the bench in our back yard when he told me, “Dad, three hundred years ago they burned women on stakes in Salem, Massachusetts because they thought they were witches. Someday society will recognize that I have a disease, and I am trying my hardest".
What made Brian smile?: More than anything Brian loved “family time” and seeing everyone happy. He also had an amazing sense of humor, and loved making us all laugh.
What do you miss most about Brian: What I miss most is the emotional connection we shared. We were soul mates. As Brian once wrote in a letter from a wilderness program, “Dad, underneath we are twins; I see it out here a lot - Mom and Dad – I don’t think I’ve ever missed you more or realized how much you do for me and I want you to know I know all your decisions are out of love. Love, Brian. “ I miss Brian every minute of every day.
Brian lost his fight as he took his own life on October 20. 2011 due to the disease and struggle of addiction. Brian's memory will live on through our stories of experience, strength and hope! To those who have lost the battle with addiction - Gary has chosen to be a voice for the many lives lost and those who struggle today. Make sure to check out the webpage at www.shatterproof.org
I was born and raised in Campbell, Ohio. "Soup City" is on the east side of Youngstown. Campbell is known for the city of churches and bars. When I was in High school, Youngstown was the murder capital of the USA two times. I learned my survival of the fittest mindset at a very young age. I learned how to exploit peoples weaknesses and devour them to get whatever I wanted. I worked on the front lines of satans rebellion for years. I was a master manipulator. I had no patience to wait for anything. If i wanted something I would do whatever I needed to do to get it immediately.
My first addiction was baseball. I had dreams of being a major league baseball player since I could remember. I used baseball as a way to relieve stress and get away from life when it was bothering me. I started lying at a young age and getting into neighborhood trouble so I was grounded ALOT! Since I was grounded so much I used the neighbors garage to work on my throwing, infield and tee work daily. I practiced so much that by the end of the summer there was no paint left on the garage lol jk (addictive personality??? lol) In 2000 I accepted a scholarship to Kent State University. In 2003 I got drafted by the Montreal Expos (Washington Nationals) and played 6 seasons of minor league baseball.
I came close to capturing my dream. I blew out my UCL in my 3rd year of pro ball and had tommy john surgery. My identity was in baseball and when I lost baseball in 2009 I lost everything.
Anyway, my second addiction was alcohol. I occasionally smoked weed but didn't like weed cause it made me paranoid. Alcohol made me feel invisible. I had my first drink when I was 11. I was raised Roman Catholic so I was an alter boy and I would slam the communion wine in the sanctuary when no one was around. I snuck beers at family events and anywhere there was alcohol. I knew I had a drinking problem at 14 when I drank a whole bottle of ouzo and had to be hospitalized cause I had alcohol poison. I was proud to be an alcoholic as sick as that sounds. I started binge drinking a few days a week during my high school career. I believe i was even drinking the night before I started the state semi championship game my junior year. I pitched the game of my life and was offered scholarship to Ohio State because of it. So being praised and honored for my talents in baseball I grew to have a "god complex". I turned my back on God when I left for Kent State and only prayed to him when I had to close a game and the bases were loaded with no outs.
My first week in college I got busted for possession of marijuana and almost lost my scholarship. I drank daily and used cocaine whenever it was given to me. People would feed me drugs an alcohol because they thought I was on my way to stardom. I was constantly getting away with all the trouble I got into or with minor consequences and because of that it made me feel invincible and it really fed my disease. My motto through college and pro ball was "party like a rock star, play like an all-star and "f**K" like a porn star". Them 3 statements were all I cared about that was my life and I loved it. I have been all over the USA to play baseball. Baseball gave me money, cars, jewelry, women, alcohol-drugs.... Baseball was my God.
I never used opiates until I had Tommy John surgery. When that narcotic hit me I had my first whole body orgasm. I fell in love and became a slave to the pills. I played for another 3 years after surgery staying high off of pain pills, alcohol and cocaine. I was scheduled to go to Perth, Australia for winter ball and a few weeks prior to leaving my daughters Mom showed me a positive pregnancy test. I retired from baseball in full blown alcoholism and opiate addiction with the bright idea I was ready to start a family. I tried everything to replace the high i would get from closing a game with thousands of people packed in a stadium chanting my name! Never found it until I felt the Holy Spirit for the first time. So anyway, I cleaned up with her during her pregnancy and did get not high again until a few days after my daughter was born. I started back up because I was still a little boy who was afraid to man up and take care of the family I had. Drugs and alcohol robbed not only me but 3 other lives of what could have been wonderful if I was sober. The pain I brought into these lives is embarrassing. if I ever hurt anyone who is reading this please accept my deepest apologies and know that I am not that same evil man today.
The opiate addiction started right back up from where it left off. This lasted almost 2 years. We broke up and I moved back to Youngstown and someone told me it would be cheaper to start using heroin so I did. Heroin now was my god and i would do anything to get it. Crack cocaine was also present at this time. I boosted,cheated and manipulated everyone to get it once I finally lost everything. In Dec 20 of 2012 there was nothing left of Gus. I lost my family, baseball and almost my life. I cut my own copper pipes out of my house to get heroin. I had overdosed 5 times and during one od I stop breathing for almost a minute. Death was looming over me, I was ready and willing to die, I didn't care. I was mad at God and didn't want anything to do with him.
On January 23, 2013 I decided I was done and quit cold turkey. I was getting picked up and being brought to Akron to join a program to get my life back. On January 26th, I was on my way to Akron and I fell asleep in the car. In my dream I was picked up by something huge and shaken out, I woke up to my friend and now brother in Christ (Jim Reinsel) grabbing my arm cause I had opened the door and was trying to jump out in my sleep. He was driving 70-80mph on route 76 if he didn't grab me I would have been DEAD! I believe that's the day Jesus delivered me. He forcefully came into my life like a hurricane and rid my spirit of Satan. Whatever I was possessed by tried one last time to kill me in that car ride to Akron. I tried everything then I finally decided to give God a try after Jim and i talked a few days later....WOW! I tried recovering myself but not until I full surrendered to God did I get success. God requires me to work my butt off to stay clean but i know as long as i stay focused on Christ i will be ok. These last 17 months have been a roller coaster ride but i wouldn't change a thing. My recovery has become the most important thing in my life because without it I'm no good to God or anyone else. If I go back out again I am positive I will die and my daughter will have to tell people her dad died of a heroin overdose.....not happening.
JESUS CHRIST IS MY EVERYTHING. I HAVE DEVOTED MY LIFE TO TRYING TO LIVE IN HIS WILL. GOD HAS BLESSED ME WITH A BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER AND THE ABILITY TO SHARE MY TESTIMONY WITH THE STILL SICK AND SUFFERING TO SHOW THEM JESUS IS THE WAY. I HAVE DEVOTED MY LIFE TO SHARING THE GOSPEL. IF GOD IS FOR US WHO CAN BE AGAINST US? IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MY SAVOIR PLEASE MESSAGE ME AND I WILL BE GLAD TO SHOW YOU HOW TO ACCEPT JESUS INTO YOUR HEART! AND I WOULD BE HONORED TO WALK WITH YOU IN YOUR OWN PERSONAL RECOVERY IN CHRIST! WITH CHRIST BEING MY ANCHOR IN MY RECOVERY HE HAS BLESSED ME WITH A GREAT SOBER SUPPORT FAMILY. I ALSO THANK HIM FOR ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS AND THE HEROIN ANONYMOUS PROGRAM HERE IN AKRON, OHIO.
I Hope my story can help you! If I can do this so can you.......My new motto in life is....."from the bullpen....to the grave...to a life in Christ!"
I love you all and God Bless!
A Delhi couple who allegedly sold the heroin that led to an overdose death will face involuntary manslaughter charges.
It will be the first case in Hamilton County in which an alleged drug dealer faces charges involving an overdose death, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters said in a release.
Shea Fricke, 21, died June 26 at her Delhi home after purchasing heroin from Stephanie and Christopher Eaglin, also of Delhi, an investigation revealed. The Hamilton County Coroner determined her death was a result of a heroin overdose.
The Eaglins each face one count of involuntary manslaughter stemming from Fricke's death, Deters announced Monday. They are also charged with one count each of trafficking in heroin, possession of heroin and possession of drugs. Those charges resulted from a search warrant of the Eaglins' residence on Aug. 28, from which police recovered heroin and pills.
If the Eaglins are convicted of all charges, they could each face 12 years in prison.
Deters said he has been working with Attorney General Mike DeWine to change the law surrounding how drug dealers are charged.
"The law needs to be strengthened to allow us to charge these kinds of cases as murder," he said in a statement. "If the law is changed, drug dealers would then be facing the possibility of life in prison for selling the drugs that take too many lives."
Ohio House Bill 508, which was introduced in April, deals with increasing criminal punishments for drug dealers.
Under the bill, the charges against a dealer who sells drugs leading to an overdose death of a minor could be increased from involuntary manslaughter to aggravated murder. The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 11 years in prison. The maximum sentence for aggravated murder under that circumstance would be life without parole, according to the Ohio House of Representative's website.
The bill would also increase charges against a dealer who sold to an adult who died in an overdose to murder, which carries a penalty of 15 years to life in prison.
"To get a handle on the heroin epidemic. you really have to look at traffickers and have harsher punishments in order to deter this kind of behavior," said Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, who introduced the bill.
"When they deal heroin, they know it's going to destroy somebody's life ... That's why I think it is appropriate that they're charged with murder when that happens."
Lawmakers in Kentucky are also working to impose harsher punishments for drug dealers.
Kentucky Senate Bill 5, which failed to pass in the General Assembly in April, would have allowed prosecutors to charge high-volume drug traffickers with homicide if the person died of an overdose.
Many were outraged by the bill's failure. Jason Merrick, president of Northern Kentucky People Advocating Recovery, told The Enquirer in April his organization isn't giving up.
"We were expecting more action and responsibility from our elected officials," Merrick said. "We will now begin a campaign asking – begging – Governor Beshear to declare a state of emergency.
"Too many lives are at stake. Something must be done."