The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 7, 2013

Residents: Unity and perseverance key in the battle against meth

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— BERWICK — Communities and neighborhoods need to stick together to fight back against methamphetamine use, according to residents of Berwick, who know all too well about meth’s devastating effects.

“It’s a constant battle,” said Roxanne Benjamin, owner of The Uptown Diner in Berwick, who lives on Vine Street in the borough. “Three or four years ago when I moved there you weren’t afraid to go out at night. ... Now, it’s changed. My house has been almost broken into three or four times. People move in and out constantly.”

Berwick has become the epicenter of the meth epidemic in northeastern and central Pennsylvania, with about 28 arrests in the past year, said John Soprano, regional director of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control in Wilkes-Barre, which covers Berwick.

The latest meth bust in Columbia County was Sunday, when Walter Ridall, 51, and Kenneth Crumb, 34, each of Berwick, were arrested on Old Tioga Turnpike in Fishing Creek Township, police said. Crumb was observed sitting in the back of the van manufacturing meth.

But experiencing a meth lab bust — like Friday’s in Danville, the first ever in Montour County — can be a good thing, said Ginny Crake, chief executive officer of the Berwick United Way.

“We want our meth houses to get busted,” she said. “We don’t want them in our town.”

Benjamin agreed.

“(The police) are doing their job,” she said. “But they could use so much more money and help.”

For many residents, the key to combating a meth problem is sticking together.

“People are letting the cops know what they see,” Karen Macujewski said. “They’re more aware.”

It’s a message vocalized by Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren earlier this week.

“We need the community to be alert to anything suspicious,” she said.

Call police and the Northumberland-Montour Drug Task Force, Warren said.

“We’d rather have them report anything suspicious than not report it for fear they were wasting our time,” she said. “Any tips that can be followed through will be extremely helpful.”

In Berwick, it’s a way the community has helped combat crime related to meth use, resident Anthony Ursi said.

“We all watch out for each other,” Ursi said.

Ursi said the “Methwick” label does hurt the town’s morale, but the busts are a good thing for the community.

“It’s good to get them locked up,” he said.

Awareness campaigns like ones operated by the local United Way have helped inform people about what to look for, Connie Donlin said.

“They let people know to look for the empty soda bottles, the batteries, because they might not know,” she said.

It’s also important for the community to be aware that other drugs are still out there, said Columbia-Montour County President Judge Thomas A. James Jr., who was involved in the recent start of the county’s drug court program.

“It’s misleading to be focusing everything on meth right now because there are all these other drugs out there that are just as destructive, that are destroying people and families,” he said.

James said he’s seen many meth addicts go through his courtroom and that “the physical deterioration is striking.

“You see the lack of teeth, the gaunt look, the burn marks and red blotches on their faces and a rather vacant look,” he said. “It’s tragic when you see these people.”

Meanwhile, residents are focusing on neighborhood-based projects to help get people out into their communities and talking to each other, Macujewski said.

“If you make neighborhoods look nicer, prettier, people will come out more and they will be better and safer,” she said.