Indy Star on 3/10/2017 by Chris Sikich
On Jan. 7, 2017, Jordan King drove with friends looking to buy heroin. Her body was found after she had been dragged from the car for 75 feet on Martin Luther King Jr. Street. Her parents reflect on her life.
The former cheerleader loved her daughter, her family and her friends, but ‘the addiction was greater.’
Jordan King’s parents knew heroin addiction might kill her, but they never thought her life would end in such a brutal way.…
Jordan’s family isn’t alone in struggling with life-and-death questions. Deaths from opioid overdoses have nearly doubled in Indiana in the past five years and roughly 4 percent of adults have misused opioids, state data shows.
Lawmakers have noticed. They are considering bills that would help provide access to counseling, tighter prescription controls, addiction treatment and programs for addicted women who are pregnant or have newborns.
Those efforts might help another family, but it’s too late for Jordan’s. The night of Jan. 7, she suffered a skull fracture and brain damage. She never woke up. A week later, Gar and Lisa King decided to remove their daughter from life support. Jordan King died at 5:24 a.m. Jan. 15, three days before her 26th birthday. Gar King still wears the wristwatch that he stopped the moment his daughter died.
“The easiest thing to say is she was hanging out with the wrong people,” he said, at a loss to explain how his daughter’s life ended this way. “I don’t know. I can’t answer that question. We supplied her with everything she needed, gave her the right opportunities. I wish someone would tell me.”
A happy childhood
Jordan King was raised with every opportunity to succeed.
In 1999, the Kings moved from Indianapolis to a modest home in a neighborhood in Avon for the schools and other opportunities for their children.
“We always did everything we could for the girls. We provided for them. We tried not to have them want for anything,” Lisa King said.
Gar started a drywall business. Lisa is a physical therapy manager at a senior center.
The middle child of three girls, Jordan had a happy childhood and made friends easily. As a young girl, she was active in gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, softball and soccer.
“‘She always wanted to try every sport, it didn’t matter what sport it was,” Gar King said. “She always wanted to be doing something.”
Kayla Neu said Jordan was one of the popular kids in middle school, and that Jordan befriended her when Neu’s family moved there.
“I was bullied a lot, and she always stuck up for me. She made me feel good about myself,” Neu said.
The two often hung out after school, at the mall or at the park.
She said Jordan always spoke highly of her parents.
“She was always happy,” Neu recalled.
A turn in high school
Jordan was a decent student in high school, her parents said, and was active in club and varsity cheerleading. But she started hanging out with a crowd that drank and smoked marijuana occasionally, which her parents at first chalked up to normal teenager behavior.
Neu and Jordan remained friends for a while. But when Jordan started partying with kids on the weekends, they lost touch.
“They were the kids that were making bad decisions,” Neu said.
Specialists who work in addiction treatment say using marijuana, alcohol and even cigarettes can lead to patterns of addictive behavior. But more concretely, buying and using marijuana can introduce kids to dealers who might have more dangerous substances to peddle and a crowd that’s more willing to take risks with drugs.
“It really never starts with heroin addiction,” said Robin Parsons, chief clinical officer at Fairbanks treatment center.
While Jordan began partying more, sports remained a positive in her life. She was a skilled cheerleader, more confident, fearless, strong-willed and athletic than most on the squad, said her coach, Cindy Whyde.
“She was a very talented gymnast,” Whyde said.
Jordan, though, began struggling in school, and her parents were growing worried about the company she was keeping. Hoping to separate her from friends they now considered a bad influence, her parents sent her to the Harris Academy, an educational support facility, her senior year.
Life began to change
Jordan graduated in May 2009, but more serious trouble was to follow.
With her parents’ encouragement, she decided to take a year off before considering college. She worked odd jobs, waiting tables, working at a paint shop. Nothing too serious, or for too long.
Her old friends went off to college or started families. She began hanging out with a new group of friends, people her parents didn’t know.
She also had her first serious brush with the law. In July 2009, Jordan and a friend were arrested after Avon police caught them in a parked car with a bag of marijuana. Three months later, she pleaded guilty to possession, a misdemeanor, and served a year of probation.
Her parents began asking questions. Who was she hanging out with? What was she thinking? But, for Jordan, it didn’t serve as a wake-up call.
Her parents say she began using more serious drugs. It started with prescription painkillers. They think her friends were using pills, and so she began using them, too.
“It started with Vicodin,” Lisa King said. “Friends would have it. Or her boyfriend. As her tolerance built up, she had to go to something different.”
Dr. Krista Brucker, an emergency medical physician at Eskenazi Health who founded a program to help addicts called Project Point, said pill addiction introduced heroin to a new market: middle-income white people.
Brucker wishes more people had paid attention to heroin addiction earlier.
“There is a race element to what is happening right now,” she said. “Problems with heroin have plagued our poor, inner-city African-American communities for decades and to be honest, no one cared very much. Right now it’s affecting other populations, mostly white and mostly affluent, so there is more attention focused on it.”
Prescription painkillers have been overprescribed by doctors and have flooded the streets, said Brucker. She said the fact doctors prescribe pills gives users a false sense that they’re safe.
But in reality, they can lead to dependency and addiction. “You have to use more and more to get the desired effect,” said Parsons.
Pills are expensive on the street, though. Once addicts are hooked, Parsons said they turn to a cheaper, but powerful and highly addictive alternative: heroin.
“The average person can’t afford a pill addiction for very long,” she said. “In comes heroin.”
Jordan began using heroin and became an addict. Her life grew more chaotic as she fed her addiction.
Her parents caught her stealing from them, they think, to pay for drugs. She also stole from others.
In 2012, Jordan was convicted of petty theft and was placed on probation again.
The Kings say they tried everything to make their daughter quit. Reasoning. Listening. Pleading. Yelling. Nothing worked.
“We were on her constantly,” Gar King said.
She went to rehab seven times. It wasn’t cheap. The Kings estimate they paid more than $15,000.
She went to Valle Vista Health System in Greenwood. Sycamore Springs in Lafayette. Most of the time, she was out in a week. Enough time to detox. Not enough time to make life changes. When she was discharged, she’d go back to her friends. Back to drugs.
Addicts can detox in about a week, Parsons said. But they have to choose to stay in rehab. When they leave, most go back to their friends and start using again. When addiction sets in, she said, it takes significant counseling, life coaching and commitment from the addict and those around her to break clear. Opioids, she said, change the way the brain functions.
“If someone stays clean for a year, they have a 30 percent chance of making it,” Parsons said. “If they stay clean for five years, they have a 60 percent chance of making it.”
In 2014, Jordan decided she wanted to get serious help. With her parents’ support, she flew to Boca Raton, Fla., and checked into a rehab center called The Watershed.
Her parents were thrilled. She spent nearly half a year in Florida. She lived at the center and took counseling and coaching. The center helped her find a job at an automotive repair shop and later found her a place to live in a group home for recovering addicts.
Things were going as well as they had in years.
“She was doing what she was supposed to be doing,” Lisa King said.
But eventually Jordan begged to come home. They bought her a plane ticket in spring 2015, despite misgivings.
When she got home, they found out she was pregnant. The father was not a part of her life. But she seemed OK.
Davyna was born Sept. 1, 2015. Her parents thought the baby girl might be a blessing, a reason to stay clean. Jordan and Davyna stayed with her parents. Things seemed to go well.
“I thought everything was getting turned around,” Gar King said.
But it wasn’t long before Jordan began hanging out with old friends, people her parents had hoped were out of her life.
“We just couldn’t figure out why she would always gravitate back to these people,” Gar King said.
Bri Roell was one of those people, a friend with whom she did drugs. Roell said addiction gets a grip and won’t let go.
“Everyone she hung out with did drugs,” Roell said. “You have to change who you hang out with, the people you are around, and she always stuck by the same people. She was a loyal person and she didn’t change her friends.”
Roell understands the irony of her statement, knows that she is one of the people Jordan should have let go. Roell is facing the same struggle. She said friends drag each other down.
“That’s what drug addicts do,” she said.
In 2016, Jordan failed a drug test.
The Department of Child Services intervened. Jordan could no longer live with Davyna.
The Kings made the toughest choice of their lives, though really there was no choice at all.
They kept Davyna and Jordan moved out in March 2016. They sent her to the Florida treatment center again, but Jordan left after about a week.
“She loved her daughter, we all know that,” Gar King said. “The addiction was greater.”
A fatal car ride
Whatever fleeting grip Jordan had on her life vanished when she moved out. Her last months were tough, crashing with friends, staying in cheap hotels and getting into trouble.
In September 2016, Jordan overdosed and was taken to Eskenazi Hospital. She shoved a paramedic after being revived and was charged with battery on a public safety official.
She had a job at McDonald’s. But a month after the overdose, she took a co-worker’s car and license without asking and drove to a store where she was caught shoplifting. When police caught her, she lied about her name and concocted a plan to escape, according to court filings.
She was charged with auto theft, identity deception, making false statements to police and resisting law enforcement.
Parsons said addicts often steal to get money to feed their habit, including shoplifting or taking cash or objects from family. They get to a point where their entire lives revolve around taking drugs, not because it feels good, but because without it they become violently ill.
“It’s not that they’re criminals or bad eggs,” Parsons said. “They are desperate, and they have to have this drug or they feel like they are going to die.”
Drugs make good people do bad things, Roell said.
“Every drug addict had a life before they became someone like they are,” she said.
The night Jordan died, she was staying at the Royal Inn, a place on the west side where police calls are common.
Roell was with Jordan. They wanted to buy heroin and called Austin Blevins, an acquaintance Jordan had met in rehab two years earlier.
He picked King up, but not her friends, and they drove off together, the police report said.
During that car ride, something went wrong.
Police are investigating whether Jordan was pushed from the car and whether Blevins was alone or had an accomplice. They say she was buying drugs from Blevins and, after the transaction, she was dragged, hanging from the passenger side door of the car, 75 feet down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, according to the police report.
A bystander found her laying in the road and called 911. The witness told police he had heard something dragging from a car and went to investigate. The witness saw the car do a U-turn, drive past Jordan and leave the scene.
Police say Blevins was driving that car.
Four hours after King was left in the roadway, police found Blevins’ car, a 2002 Nissan, abandoned with hazard lights flashing at the intersection of West 16th and North Illinois streets. The car had blood, as well as minor damage, on the passenger side. They found Jordan’s cell phone and purse inside. They also found Blevins’ wallet, license and an open 24-ounce can of Budweiser.
Blevins, 22, remains in Marion County Jail in lieu of $30,000 bond. After he was arrested, a warrant was issued for him for probation violation of a drug charge in Hendricks County.
His attorney, Jennifer Lukemeyer of Voyles, Zahn & Paul, declined to comment.
Roell thinks Blevins pushed Jordan out of the car, but she can’t imagine why. Had Jordan overdosed, Roell said, Blevins would have known he could call paramedics without fear of prosecution under state law. She said Blevins and all of their friends had seen enough overdoses not to panic. Roell said they often carried Narcan, a medicine that counteracts drug overdoses.
“I know it’s bad, but smart addicts carry Narcan,” she said. “You know someone is going to be there to save you.”
Jordan’s parents were sitting down on that Sunday morning, with nothing more on their minds than watching football when a hospital chaplain contacted them and told them what had happened.
They called Jordan’s grandparents, Carmel Councilman Ron Carter and his wife, Barb, and the family rushed to her bedside.
“We thought we might get a call that she had overdosed,” Carter said. “Barb and I had always talked about that. This was something that was extremely unexpected.”
The Kings watched their daughter die. Now they say they want justice.
Blevins was charged with reckless homicide, leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury and dealing in a narcotic drug. He faces up to 12 years.
The Kings say that’s not enough. They want Blevins charged with felony murder. Due to Jordan’s injuries, they think she was pushed from the car and was unconscious before she hit the ground. And they want to know if Blevins had an accomplice. The police report indicates someone may have been with Blevins when Jordan first got in the car.
Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Mears said police continue to investigate. Charges could be added if warranted, he said.
Blevins has a criminal record, but nothing violent. In March 2015, he was sentenced to a year probation after stealing from a patient at a skilled-nursing center where he was working in housekeeping. In April 2016, police pulled him over while he was driving under the influence of heroin. He was sentenced to another year of probation and ordered to live in a sober home. In July 2016, he was charged with possession of a syringe and received more probation time.
Coincidentally, Whyde, Jordan’s cheerleading coach, is friends with Blevins’ parents. She said he was a good kid who played football and baseball in Plainfield. She sees him as a victim of heroin, too.
“I was completely floored when I found out it was him,” she said. “You don’t ever imagine something like this happening to two kids that you know.”
Specialists say heroin changes people. They say it’s time for more significant steps to treating addiction.
Brucker, the Eskenazi physician, said there’s no easy answer. In 2016 alone, Eskenazi treated 722 overdoses with naloxone, the active ingredient in Narcan.
Curtailing heroin addiction, she said, will take a willingness to make pills less available, money to open treatment centers, funding to make treatment affordable, a simplification of the process to apply for state and federal funds in the Healthy Indiana Plan, plus criminal justice and child protection reform.
But more than anything, she said it will take a willingness to treat addiction as a medical issue instead of a moral failing.
“I can’t paint a picture bleak enough of the heroin epidemic,” she said.
The Kings know it’s too late for their family, for Jordan. But they hope Indiana takes steps to help other families. And they hope Jordan’s story will serve as a warning.
“Nothing is going to bring her back,” Lisa King said. “I hope that somehow other people look at this and say maybe ‘you know what, none of this is worth it.’ Maybe this will change their lives.”