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Overdose victim's parents sue Westmoreland County, day reporting center

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By Richard Gazarik
Friday, May 2, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

The parents of a Unity man who died of an overdose of heroin he bought outside the day reporting center in Greensburg are suing Westmoreland County and two nonprofit agencies, alleging they allowed dealers to peddle drugs to clients outside the treatment facility, according to their lawsuit.

David and Brenda Benedict filed suit on Thursday against the county; Bruno Mediate, director of county Adult Probation and Parole; Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services in Charleroi; and Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission in Monessen, alleging wrongful death and negligence in the 2012 death of their 25-year-old son, Derek.

Derek Benedict purchased heroin outside the reporting center on South Maple Avenue, went home and injected the drug and died of an overdose, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney Noah Geary of Washington County.

The human services group operates the day reporting center, where people charged with drug crimes are sentenced to get treatment rather than go to jail. Clients are tested daily for drugs and receive counseling.

The drug and alcohol commission serves as the conduit for state funding for drug treatment and prevention programs. The commission distributes the funding to various agencies, including the human services agency.

The day reporting center was temporarily closed in 2011 when county detectives raided it and arrested 23 clients for selling drugs and discovered 15 others had tested positive for drugs.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of failing to protect Benedict from drug dealers, which “is precisely what led to the shutdown of the reporting center in the first place,” Geary said.

The lawsuit alleges the county and agencies failed to:

• Install video surveillance systems to monitor outside activity.

• Monitor clients on breaks and ban cellphone use.

• Take steps to keep suspected drug dealers off the premises.

• Properly train probation officers on duty at the center.

County Solicitor R. Mark Gesalman said on Thursday that he had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment. Jeff Burks Mascara, president and CEO of the human services group; deputy director Michele Backo, deputy director of the drug and alcohol commission; and the Benedicts did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Colleen Hughes, drug and alcohol commission director, is on vacation, according to a secretary.

The lawsuit alleges that because of a lack of supervision, the human services group allowed its clients to possess drugs and to switch urine samples to avoid testing positive for drug abuse.

The group allowed drug dealers to lurk around the center and cited a female addict who overdosed at the center and nearly died, the lawsuit claims.

Geary said clients at the facility are “vulnerable people in recovery, struggling to overcome drug addiction, and are clearly susceptible to temptation, manipulation and other improper influences by others. The defendants accordingly had a duty to protect the residents of the day reporting center from drug dealers who would openly approach DRC residents and solicit them to buy drugs.”

Benedict was arrested in 2011 for drug possession. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year on probation, according to court records. He was arrested again that year for manufacture and possession with intent to deliver and was sentenced to one to two years of intensive probation at the day reporting center.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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