An Ohio officer driving behind an erratically moving SUV discovered two nearly unconscious adults police believe were on heroin traveling with a child in the backseat.
The East Liverpool Police Department shared photos of the sobering scene on social media Thursday in hopes of bringing attention to an issue they said has reached epidemic proportions.
While the photos have drawn criticism, especially for the appearance of a young child, cops say it's a drastic effort to encourage change in the face of an increasingly dire situation.
“We are well aware that some may be offended by these images and for that we are truly sorry, but it is time that the non-drug using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis,” the department said on Facebook.
In the pictures, a stoic 4-year-old boy sits in the back of the Ford Explorer, staring at the camera.
The boy — whose image InsideEdition.com has chosen to blur — is blond-haired and sits stone-faced while wearing a t-shirt with dinosaurs as the two adults supposed to be watching over him are slumped over in their seats.
“He’s completely emotionless. That’s the way he acts the whole [time],” Chief John Lane told InsideEdition.com.
The photos are public record, but Facebook users were divided on their propriety, as many praised the police for releasing the uncensored pictures and others questioned why the child’s face was visible.
“Public shaming. Totally ineffective as a deterrent. Shame on you for your poor judgment in taking and posting this photo. It does nothing to prevent future crimes and potentially damages the life of an innocent child,” Todd Walburn commented on the post.
“Show the child’s face. Show the innocent victim. Show the world exactly who is being put in harm’s way. Maybe this pic of the actual child will wake up one addict. Maybe this pic will wake up one family that is enabling their addict to at least take the custody of the affected children who deal with this on a daily basis. So sad to think addicts only care about themselves,” Michele Woodall wrote.
Lane defended the release of the uncensored photos, telling InsideEdition.com that they serve as a wakeup call to the reality this child and so many children live with on a daily basis.
“It’s a photo that needs to be shared. You’ve got to understand, this isn’t a one-time deal,” Lane said, pointing to how unfazed the boy was to see his grandmother and the man she was with unconscious. “How many times has he sat playing there … and they’re there passed out with needles in their arms? This is a major issue that needs to be dealt with. It’s happening all over and little kids are caught up in this... It’s very frustrating.”
An East Liverpool Police Department probable cause affidavit said an officer on his way to work Wednesday spotted the Ford Explorer with West Virginia plates weaving back and forth on St. Clair Avenue as it followed behind a school bus packed with kids.
The SUV braked hard as the school bus discharged children up ahead, skidding to a stop before drifting onto an adjoining street, the affidavit said.
“Who’s to say [they couldn’t have] passed out [sooner] and run these kids over?” Lane said.
The driver, identified as 47-year-old James Acord, bobbed his head back and forth and was almost unintelligible as he told the officer that he was taking his passenger to the hospital, the court document said.
Rhonda Pasek and James Acord were arrested on Wednesday. (Columbiana County Jail)
Acord allegedly attempted to drive away, but the officer reached into the vehicle, turned it off and removed the keys. Acord eventually passed out, the affidavit said.
His passenger, 50-year-old Rhonda Pasek, was also unconscious and when she began to turn blue, the officer attempted to keep her airway open and called for an ambulance. Pasek is the grandmother of the little boy in the photo, and is his legal guardian, Lane said.
“I’m surprised she even has custody of that kid … This problem goes a lot deeper than just this,” he said.
EMS responded to the scene and administered Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose, according to police. The pair regained consciousness and were taken to a nearby hospital.
A small amount of a pink powdery substance in a folded piece of paper allegedly found between Pasek’s legs will be sent to a crime lab for analysis.
Acord was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, endangering children and slowing or stopping in a roadway. He pleaded guilty and will spend 360 days in jail, officials said.
Pasek was charged with endangering children, public intoxication and not wearing a seat belt. She pleaded not guilty and has a pre-trial appearance scheduled for September 15. She remained in Columbiana County Jail on Friday.
The 4-year-old boy was placed in the custody of Columbiana County Children’s Services. He was then given over to an adult who is not a blood relative, but who he has a "psychological relationship" with, officials said.
Pasek has no history with Columbiana County Children's Services, but that is likely because she is a resident of West Virginia, said Eileen Dray-Barden, director of Columbiana County Ohio Department of Job & Family Services.
A spokesperson with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources told InsideEdition.com that due to confidentiality, they are unable to comment on cases involving Child Protective Service.
It’s not clear where the little boy will ultimately end up — and unfortunately, his circumstances are not unique, Lane said.
“People like to bury their heads in the sand about this, but it’s an issue that’s reached almost epidemic proportions,” he said. “People like to pretend it’s just here … but this is the whole country.
"Chances are, you’ve got people you work with who are probably addicted to pills, and that can turn into an addiction to heroin.”
It’s an issue Lane said should be obvious but isn’t talked about enough, and that angers him. Though the photo’s release has gotten mixed reactions, Lane said he’ll consider releasing other photos of similar nature if it will bring attention to this issue.
“A photo says a thousand words,” he said.
“You’ve got a president who never talks about it... You don’t hear [Ohio Governor John] Kasich talk about it... Presidential candidates, they don’t talk about it... This discussion needs to happen,” he continued. “This picture put out there makes it happen.”