Five years after fentanyl

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 11:38 AM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - A sister; a daughter; a mom; Grace was a beloved member of the Fitzgerald family.

Beth Staeckeler, a realtor and Grace’s sister, was always fond of her sibling’s sense of humor: “Grace was funny. She had this loud laugh. She was always silly. She was always in a good mood ... I still hear her laugh sometimes.”

Grace also had a drug problem.

“My little sister, Grace, died of a fentanyl over- sorry, every time, I get upset,” Staeckeler says as her emotions flare. She takes a moment to recompose herself, then continues: “every single time, I get upset.”

Beth’s story - her sister’s story - is a hard one to tell.

“This is so stupid. It’s been five years. I’ve told my story a hundred times.”

In January 2016, Grace traded the East Coast for the Midwest as she moved from Long Island, N.Y. to Lead, S.D.

She struggled with a heroin addiction in the past, but had been clean for years. She wanted to start a new life for her one-year-old daughter and decided to head west.

Beth helped Grace get on her feet, but someone from her past followed her.

“We tried to get him to not come out visit. He came out to visit anyway.”

Derek Kenny: her boyfriend; the father of her child; someone who enabled her addiction.

“He was toxic. They have a kid together.”

Derek found her a few months after she moved. They rekindled their relationship - and their addiction.

“They say that once you start, it’s very difficult to stop. And she tried and she did it and she succeeded, but, when enticed ... very few people say no.”

Beth says her family didn’t know Derek was in town.

One day in June, while helping host a small-time motorcycle rally, she received a devastating phone call.

“We had a missed phone call at one of the stops along the way and it was one of the police officers in Lead, and they said that we had to come back because my sister wasn’t able to come to the phone, but there was an incident,” Beth says, tears in her eyes.

“I just remember yelling into the phone ‘is she alive?’ and he wouldn’t answer.”

Derek called an ambulance, but when it arrived, Grace was already gone.

“Yeah, she was gone the next morning ... just like that.”

Derek pled guilty to second-degree manslaughter a little over two years later, and while Beth feels her case wasn’t done justice, she’s moved on.

“I’m not angry with him anymore. You can’t live with all that anger - it’s too much. I did for so long.”

However, the problem of drugs laced with fentanyl remains.

“I lost a family friend to an overdose ... I lost my cousin a couple of months ago to an overdose ... I mean, everybody knows more than one person who’s died from an overdose. I understand that for 50 years, people preached ‘just say no,’ but now, for real, just say ‘no,’ because if you buy something off of the street and it even has one little iota of that fentanyl in it,” Beth emphasizes. “You’re gonna lose. You will lose.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction we urge you to reach out. You can call the Care Campus in Rapid City at (605) 394-6128.

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