Christina Fredricksen tried to save her father from heroin addiction.
For many years, she did whatever she could to help him get sober, whether it was getting him into treatment, giving him a place to stay or just simply being a shoulder to lean on. Eventually, she kicked him out of her house because she didn’t want him using drugs around her children. Erik Fredricksen then moved in with his 36-year-old son, Josh Fredricksen, and started taking steps to turn his life around.
He got a job. He bought a truck. He sought treatment and stayed sober. He was even on his way to a promotion.
“He was doing all the right things,” Christina Fredricksen of Harvard said. “He turned himself around.”
But his progress was derailed after he got into a car crash and was let go from his job. Then the holidays came.
Erik Fredricksen of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, died Jan. 11 of a heroin overdose after 15 years of addiction. He was a father to three adult children, Christina Fredricksen, 31, Savannah Fredricksen, 18, of Richmond and Josh Fredricksen, 36, and a grandfather to Elyza, 5, and Alexander Fredricksen, 10.
“He was, I would consider, a closet addict. He was still able to function and do all the responsibilities he needed to do,” Christina Fredricksen said. “My kids don’t have their father, so he took on that role. He made sure they bathed at night, he helped my son with his homework, he made sure they were getting to school on time.
“He was there. He was there for all of us.”
Erik Fredricksen is one of 18 people who died of drug overdoses in McHenry County as of the first week of March. Among those overdoses were six heroin deaths, three fentanyl deaths and three fentanyl analog deaths, according to statistics from the McHenry County Coroner’s Office. In 2012, there were 31 drug overdose deaths in McHenry County. Last year, there were 56.
After the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office investigated Erik Fredricksen’s death, deputies arrested the man they believe supplied him with heroin that day.
Glen Miculinic, 65, of McHenry was charged in February with drug-induced homicide and unlawful delivery of a controlled substance.
Drug-induced homicide is a Class X felony in Illinois, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office has filed charges in overdose deaths 17 times since 2003, including two so far this year.
Prosecutors say they hope the cases send a message to dealers.
Alternatively, more defendants who identify as drug addicts are receiving community-based sanctions and alternative sentencing, such as drug court, treatment and Good Samaritan laws that provide legal immunity in some situations for those who seek help for someone who has overdosed.
At a time where community advocates are pushing for more rehabilitation options, some believe the increase in drug-induced homicide charges in McHenry County seems to swing the pendulum in the other direction.
McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said more people are being charged with drug-induced homicide because more people are dying of overdoses.
“If you are engaging in unnecessarily selfish and risky behavior and something horrible happens from that, well, justice demands a more heightened response,” Kenneally said.
He said people often think drug-induced homicide means someone is being charged with murder and that’s not the case. Many times, those convicted of the crime serve five to 25 years in prison. In fact, most get less than 10 years.
Of three cases where charges were filed in 2016, each person was sentenced to less than 10 years in prison. Jessie Brown, who was accused of selling morphine pills to a Wonder Lake woman who died, pleaded guilty to an amended charge of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance and was sentenced to three years in prison; West Chicago man Joshua Manthei was charged with drug-induced homicide but his charges were later dismissed; Elias Ramos-Ortiz was charged in connection with a Crystal Lake man’s death, and he also pleaded guilty to an amended charge and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Earlier this year, James Linder, a Zion man who was charged in connection with an Algonquin woman’s overdose death, was sentenced to 28 years in prison after McHenry County jurors found him guilty of drug-induced homicide. Judge Sharon Prather said his extensive criminal record was a factor in the sentence.
Kenneally said that while he understands the seriousness of drug addiction and believes the community has done a “pretty good job” making resources available to those who want to get clean, dealers need to be accountable.
“When you are dealing with family members of people who have died because somebody made the decision to pass this filth around this community, that needs to be met sternly,” he said.
Kenneally also said the idea that the state’s attorney’s office will charge a group of people who go and buy drugs for each other is a misconception.
“We are charging people if they are profiting from the sale of the drugs,” he said.
McHenry County is not alone in dealing with the throes of addiction in the community. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids nationally, which include prescription drugs and heroin, has quadrupled, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts say that several factors have likely contributed to the severity of the opioid epidemic, including the increasing number of prescriptions for addictive painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Chris Reed, a former addict and owner of The Other Side in Crystal Lake, said drug-induced homicide charges are necessary, but they need to be meant for dealers not addicts. He said he believes there are certain cases in McHenry County where a drug addict who made a bad decision and needs help ends up facing 30 years in prison.
“There’s not a heroin hub in Crystal Lake where someone is throwing out heroin bags and sending out hot deadly doses,” he said. “So the question becomes, ‘Does the person who went and picked up the heroin for that day become responsible for everyone else’s lives?’ “
Ultimately, Reed said putting people in prison is not going to fix the bigger problem.
“If I lost my son or daughter from a heroin overdose, I can’t say I wouldn’t want the person to face a consequence,” he said. “I think the main question is does that law fit the solution to the problem.”
A prison sentence is not a cure for addiction, defense attorney Hank Sugden said.
“These people come back out into the community and hang in the same areas, they put themselves in the same situation and they get right back into it,” Sugden said. “It’s a waste of taxpayers money and a waste of time.”
Sugden said he advocates for programs such as drug court, but it is difficult to help those facing mandatory prison sentences.
Two months after Erik Fredricksen’s death, his family is grieving the loss of a man who “who would do anything for his family.” Family members are following Miculinic’s case, and they feel at least a little solace knowing he’s in jail.
All three children and two grandchildren spend much of their time reminiscing about the times they shared to ensure they never forget: Trips to the beach, walks, birthday parties. Savannah Fredricksen has a constant reminder of her father tattooed on each of her wrists — his birth and death date.
“We tried over and over again to help my dad and unfortunately we couldn’t,” Christina Fredricksen said. “If we could reach one person and save their life that’s what it’s all about.”