A woman six months pregnant and a woman who had just given birth were caught smoking an oxycodone pill in a bathroom at the Kanakanak Hospital last Thursday afternoon. According to police, a nurse may have smelled the drug use coming from the bathroom inside the woman’s private maternity room. The newborn child, which police say was delivered the same day, was in the room while the mother, Dahlia Wassillie, 25, of Togiak, smoked the heroin substitute nearby.
Jennifer Williams, 25, of Togiak, has been identified as the pregnant woman who provided the oxycodone tablet and joined Wassillie in smoking it. Wassillie provided consent to a search of her belongings, according to Dillingham police, and an officer discovered 15 non-prescribed oxycodone pills as well as bottles of alcohol police allege she was intending to import back to the dry village of Togiak. A pharmacist at the hospital confirmed the oxycodone pills were not a brand prescribed at Kanakanak Hospital, meaning the pills were likely obtained illicitly.
Williams has been charged with one count of fourth degree misconduct involving a controlled substance, and one count of second degree misconduct involving a controlled substance. Dillingham Superior Court Judge Pat Douglass issued a $500 warrant for Williams’ arrest on the two felony charges. Wassillie, the new mother caught smoking, has not yet been charged with any crimes.
The incident was reported through the Office of Children’s Services. When reached Tuesday, BBAHC staff could not confirm whether the newborn child was being treated for drug withdraws, citing patient confidentiality.
Truck arson may be drug related
The Dillingham Volunteer Fire Department was called out to a residence on Gauthier Way last Thursday morning in response to a truck fire. The burning vehicle was first noticed by a police officer on patrol at about 4:45 a.m. The fire department was able to extinguish the fire before it spread to the house nearby, but the truck was a total loss. Police have labeled the fire an arson, and they, as well as the vehicle owner, suspect the deliberately set fire may be tied to the drug problem in town.
“I only see two options,” said Steve Aikins, the owner of the 1986 Ford F250 diesel that was destroyed. “Either that fire was drug-related, or it was someone who was just really really mad at me.”
Aikins has been working to curb drug problems “close to home,” and said the fire may have been an act of retribution against his efforts. He’s heard unconfirmed reports of vehicles similarly destroyed in Naknek and in Bethel, and is concerned that the dealers may try to scare the community from standing up to them. Years ago, he says, he had a jet boat sabotaged after assisting law enforcement in some drug buys.
“I do know this, when you start getting close to them, the drug dealers will retaliate,” Aikins said Tuesday.
The police found bottles of propane in the bed of the truck they believe were put there as accelerant to ensure a destructive blaze. Aikins lost several good tools and other equipment in the truck, and he doesn’t believe his liability insurance will cover the loss. He said the winds last Thursday morning nearly blew the fire into the house.
“It melted the siding, but the fire department got it out just in time,” he said.
Aikins is offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist. He has a few suspects in mind but isn’t naming names yet, and neither have the police, though Chief Dan Pasquariello told the Bristol Bay Times last Friday that the department has its investigation focused on one individual.
“We will keep upping this reward until we get to the bottom of this,” said Aikins. “I think it’s part of a larger problem, and we have to start standing up now.”
Community meetings held to seek solutions
Building on the public outcry expressed mainly on Facebook about the problem of heroin and oxycodone pills in town, Cheri Johansen of Dillingham cobbled together a time and place for community members to meet and talk about what to do.
“I guess we’re here tonight to see each other face to face, to have hope, and to draw strength from each other,” said Crystal Luckhurst, who helped Johansen coordinate.
The meeting, attended by 42 people, was held at the Curyung Tribal Office building downtown at the same time the Dillingham City School Board was meeting and apparently addressing similar concerns. That small oversight highlighted a lack of cooperation between the various agencies and authorities the community hopes are working together to combat the drug problem.
“We’re getting organized here, but we need to hurry,” said Brian Fox, likening the fight to one between an amateur and a professional boxer. “We’re up against organizations that can move this stuff around the world despite the best efforts of our law enforcement and justice system. What can be done? Why are we always coming late to the game?”
Every attendee had a chance to introduce his or herself, and to express why they were concerned and offer possible solutions. Ideas floated during the meeting included setting up a Crimestoppers anonymous tip line, working to reestablish the DARE program at the Dillingham Police Department, and asking the police to better enforce the town curfew for minors, which is 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on the weekends. Others called for educating both adults and children on the drugs being used in town, and for speaking up and helping police the neighborhoods. Many had questions for the law enforcement officers present about their roles, how cases are investigated and prosecuted, and how citizens could help.
“I have gotten a lot of good information about who’s up to what, and where heroin and pills are being sold from, but folks, what I really need are buyers,” Dillingham police officer Bill Bauer said, leaving the room rather astonished. Bauer, and WAANT officer Wyatt Derner, explained that undercover buyers and informants are one of the strongest tools they have to build cases and arrest local dealers. Anonymous tips and even confidentially-provided information is often not credible enough to obtain a search warrant.
“I need people in this town who will risk getting beat up or getting their truck burned in order to help us make a case against these guys,” said Bauer. The burned truck reference was a nod to Steven Aikins, who was also present Monday.
“One of the things that scares me the most is how smart these dealers are,” said
Aikins. “They’re businessmen. They know how to peer pressure our kids into trying anything, and if you don’t think they’re smart, consider this: after pressuring the kids to try these drugs, they’re giving them the first dose or two for free. How are they supposed to refuse that?”
Much of the emphasis of Monday’s meeting was on protecting the children.
“I’m afraid this drug use, this heroin and pills, is becoming the norm that our kids are growing up with. Enough is enough. We need to start thinking about the future that we’ll leave our kids,” said Carol Luckhurst, adding later that, “Silence is acceptance.”
“It’s time we stop keeping our mouths shut,” said Gayla Hoseth.
“We have a heroin problem in this community,” said Rex Spofford, an adult probation officer with the Department of Corrections. “If we’re going to get a handle on it, we’ve got to have buy-in, from all of us. If you really love your family members, it’s time to hold them accountable. Better we do that now than just keep showing up at the funerals. When we look the other way, we’re offering them our implied consent for their actions, and this has to stop.”
The next open meeting of the yet-to-be-named group of concerned citizens is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, again at the Curyung Tribal Council building downtown.
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New mother caught smoking oxycodone – Dutch Harbor Fisherman