Father mourns tragic death of teen in tunnel gun case

AP News
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Posted: Feb 12, 2017 9:14 PM
Father mourns tragic death of teen in tunnel gun case

The fates of three people who said they were on a rescue mission to help save a teenager from a New York heroin den when they were stopped with a cache of weapons could be decided by a New Jersey judge Monday.

But for the teen at the center of the case, the story has already ended tragically.

Jenea Patterson, 18, died of an apparent drug overdose last month at a hospital near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, according to her father, James Patterson.

"When I went down to get her in New York, I told her right then and there this is a warning sign for you," Patterson said. "I grabbed her and I held her in my arms and I said 'You've gotta get out of the game, Jenea, death is knocking at your door.'"

In June, before Patterson went to New York himself, John Cramsey, Dean Smith and Kimberly Arendt, all of Pennsylvania, were stopped on their way to help Patterson. The three reportedly went after Jenea Patterson sent a message to Arendt, her former camp counselor, after a friend died of an overdose in a hotel room.

Grief stricken after the death of his daughter, Cramsey became an anti-drug crusader, starting a group of concerned parents and going on rescue missions to help addicts get into treatment. He owned a gun range in Pennsylvania but did not have a permit in New Jersey to transport five handguns, a shotgun and semi-automatic military-style rifle.

A judge is scheduled to rule Monday on whether a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer had probable cause to stop the car at the Holland Tunnel. The officer says he stopped them over a windshield crack and objects dangling from the rearview mirror, but the defendants argue it's more likely they were pulled over because they were driving a truck adorned with cross-hairs and pro-Second Amendment decals.

They have pleaded not guilty to weapon possession charges.

Patterson says the older of his two daughters had a good heart and enjoyed helping others, but started abusing prescription pills when she was 13. She later started using heroin and was sent to a program for troubled youth in 2014, where she met Arendt. But Patterson said his daughter got worse after leaving.

"I begged people, if you let that child on the street, she's going to die." Patterson said. "Here we are two years later, I'm burying my daughter."

Ed Weaver, the admissions director for the Youth Services Agency program Patterson attended, said that most teens spend about 90 days at the camp in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. He said there are classes and the program also offers anger management, vocational training and trauma-based therapy.

"We try to give them the best skills that we can, but it's ultimately up to where they're going back to," Weaver said. He spoke generally and not of Patterson's case, but said it comes down to "the support of the family and of Children and Youth services and probation officers to keep them on the path."

Patterson said that public officials need to do more with job training, tougher sentences for dealers and education for young people.

Just as Cramsey has been working to fight the opioid crisis since his daughter died, Patterson hopes to form an organization to help users and dealers. He's also working to raise money to pay for the expense of his daughter's funeral and for other families whose children meet a similar fate.

"I'm trying to link up with everyone who has lost a child of a drug overdose," he said. "If we don't come together and we do nothing, then more of them are going to die."

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Cornfield reported from Trenton, New Jersey. Contact him at https://www.twitter.com/JoshCornfield