By July 17, 2017 Read More →

Huntington resident creates Heroin Hearse to warn of drug dangers

By DAVE LAVENDER

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A fourth-generation West End Huntington resident, Dwayne Wood remembers Owens-Illinois workers crossing under the railroad tracks through the 1938-built tunnel at 5th Street West and Jackson Avenue to go to work.

Robert Harris sweeps the tunnel in the 5th Street West railroad underpass in Huntington during the Heroin Hearse community cleanup effort Sunday.
(Photo by Ryan Fischer)

Wood also knows what that tunnel has become: a junkie’s jungle. As the driver of the Heroin Hearse, he is heading up a new Huntington citizen-led anti-heroin campaign.

On Sunday afternoon, Wood and more than a dozen volunteers climbed down into the trash-strewn, graffiti-covered tunnel and took out five contractor-sized bags of trash, hundreds of needles and sprayed the concrete tunnel with bleach to make it clean again for citizens to safely walk under the tracks.

“It is about cleaning the tunnel, for sure, but it is also about unity — our city needs that bad on this epidemic,” Wood said. “Unity is what is going to open the door to making a bigger difference. One family, one hearse out on the street is not going to do it, one organization is not going to do it. One person in a community is not going to do it, but many is a different story.”

Wood said all of the volunteers, including two guys staying clean at Recovery Point, have all been impacted by the heroin epidemic that has turned even deadlier with fentanyl and carfentanil.

A custom motorcycle builder, Wood said he bought a hearse in Cincinnati on Feb. 27 that he was going to chop and build into a car show piece.

When the Cincinnati radio rang out of more heroin deaths, Wood, who pulled a child from a car after the kid’s father overdosed, said it laid heavy on his heart to take the hearse and use it as a tool to help fight the epidemic.

“We all have lost friends, family and neighbors to this, but until you have held a 6-year-old in your arms who nearly died of dehydration because his father overdosed in a car, you don’t know what it does to you,” Wood said. “When that child is hugging you around your neck harder than anyone else has ever hugged you, and his tears are running down your back, and his words were ‘Thank you for saving me.’ I mean, almost every time I go to the shower, I feel those tears of his coming down my back.”

Also helping Sunday was Sharon Baumgardner-Setliff, whose daughter Crystal, a 32-year-old mother of four children, died of an overdose in September 2016. Since then, Setliff created a Facebook group (“Find the Hero in You”) that has connected more than 6,000 concerned residents from around the world talking about positive ways to fight the heroin and opioid drug epidemic. She has also given talks to drug addicts and recovering addicts around the region.

“I saw his car first, and then I saw what he was all about,” Setliff said of Wood’s Heroin Hearse that is painted with the words “Inject Heroin, Reject Life.” “He is about making a difference, and that is what we are all about: making a difference and changing lives. Changing what people think of themselves. If you start talking to these people who are so addicted, you will find out the pain they have endured and that they look for something to make it better… We have to help them find another way.”

Setliff, who lives in Ashland, said she came over to help with the cleanup because she believes in Wood’s grassroots efforts to make a difference and fight for the soul of his hometown.

“This makes me sick that nothing has been done to take care of this,” Setliff said as volunteers hauled up trash out of the tunnel. “The people in Huntington can’t even walk through here to get to their jobs or to get somewhere with their children. Think about if that was your kids and your family and you have to walk through there, you are cited if you go on the railroad tracks so you have no choice. Would you want your family in that tunnel?”

“A lot of the problem is that people don’t do anything but talk about it, and that is as far as it goes,” Sweeney said. “I have 500 Facebook friends, and I invited them all to come out, but look how many people actually show up.”

In addition to driving the Heroin Hearse to cities all over the region, Wood, his girlfriend, Trish Burns, and a handful of volunteers are creating an awareness and prevention center at 303 Olive St., Huntington.

Wood said they saw the need immediately when they bought the building in late May. They started working on the building on a Tuesday, and on that Wednesday, a girl hooked on heroin stumbled in wanting help.

“You couldn’t even see what color her eyes were,” Wood said. “This past Thursday, she has been 21 days sober.”

Go online at https://www.facebook.com/RejectHeroin/ to find out more about the Heroin Hearse Project. The group is looking for basic home improvement donations, such as sheets of drywall, new carpeting or flooring, and monetary donations to help transform the awareness and prevention center at 303 Olive St., Huntington. On Monday, July 31, the group will raffle off a custom Harley-Davidson 883 to help pay for renovation costs.

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