Longform Philly

Month: February, 2015

Remembering Hank

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 4.04.04 PM

Dick Jerardi | Philadelphia Daily News | February 2015

As the lady emerged from the Mount Lawn Cemetery office in Sharon Hill, she was asked how to go about finding a gravesite.

“Do you have a last name for me?”

“Gathers,” she was told.

“Hank Gathers?”

“Yes.”

She went around to the corner of the building, pointed across Hook Road to a spot just beyond a giant headstone with the name “ARNOLD” on it, explaining the grave was right behind that. This was not the first time she had been asked the question.

“Is he some kind of a celebrity?” she asked.

Actually, he was a son, a father, a brother, a friend, a high school legend in North Philly and the heart of a college team that will be remembered long after many of the national champions are forgotten.

The cemetery, a mile west of the airport just beyond Darby Creek where 84th Street turns into Hook Road, is bisected by the road, traffic flying by incessantly, a subtle but constant reminder of our hurry on the way to some unknowable future.

Just beyond the “ARNOLD” headstone (where the father and brother of former Saint Joseph’s player and current assistant Geoff Arnold are buried), easily visible from Hook Road across from the office, sits a small circular drive surrounding a giant bush on a grassy island. Just as you get to the end of the drive, you look out to the right and there is the gravesite:

GATHERS

ERIC

HANK

Writer bio: Dick Jerardi is a sports columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. This year marks his 30th anniversary with the tabloid.

Continue reading “Remembering Hank”

Shot of Heroine

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 4.51.45 PM

Barbara Laker | Philadelphia Daily News | February 2015

IN A BEAT-UP maroon Toyota Corolla, Carol Rostucher drives slowly up Kensington Avenue, the street of tortured souls lost in heroin’s handgrip.

She scans the young faces, the ones with the faraway eyes of self-disgust. One of them might be her son, Drew, a handsome 25-year-old. He was her first-born, once an athletic, artistic “social butterfly.” She knows he is out here.

“As long as he’s breathing, there is hope,” she says.

Garbage bags filled with blankets, hats, gloves and feet warmers cover the back seat. The night before, in her Rhawnhurst home, she’d stuffed pretzels, peanut butter crackers, granola bars, trail mix and candy tightly into Ziplocs.

On a recent frigid Sunday afternoon, Rostucher doesn’t know if she’ll see Drew, or worse, if she can help him save himself.

But she, along with other moms and dads from various corners of Philadelphia and the suburbs, wants to help the dozens on the street, mostly heroin sick, teetering on the thin, fragile line between life and death.

“They all could be my son,” says Rostucher, 51, sweeping the bright blond hair from her face. “We are losing way too many of our kids to this disease. It’s everywhere and it does not discriminate.”

In recent years, heroin has become cheap – $10 a bag – and more potent. Also, the uptick in drugs like OxyContin and Percocet has led some users to heroin, said Roland Lamb, director of the Office of Addiction Services for the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.

In recent years, the number of people who died in Philadelphia of drug and/or alcohol intoxication has remained steady. In 2013, it was 467. They had on average more than seven drugs in their system. Heroin was the most common, detected in almost 55 percent of all overdose deaths, Lamb said.

The total for 2014 hasn’t been fully compiled.

Writer bio: Barbara Laker won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting along with her partner Wendy Ruderman for the “Tainted Justice” series, which exposed police corruption. Laker, who joined The People Paper in 1993, has served as a general assignment reporter, assistant city editor and investigative reporter.

Continue reading “Shot of Heroine.”