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Police investigating Lebanon County inmate's death

Written by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News | Apr 23, 2015 6:00 PM
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Stephanie and Dean Moyer of North Cornwall Township talk about their daughter, Victoria "Tori" Herr, who died April 5 at the Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown. Herr had been incarcerated at the Lebanon County prison and was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital on March 31. Hours later she was airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital. (Michael K. Dakota -- Lebanon Daily News)

(Lebanon) -- Stephanie Moyer didn't immediately notice the changes in her daughter's behavior last year.

Growing up, the fun-loving Victoria "Tori" Herr enjoyed hanging out with a group of other bright kids. She loved animals and was "artsy," with an eye for photography and a talent for writing, which one day she hoped might lead to a career in journalism, said her mother.

But about a year ago, near the end of Tori's senior year at Cedar Crest High School, Moyer saw a distinct change in her daughter. No longer carefree, she became morose and distant. Her old friends stopped hanging around, and her new ones were different.

"It took a while for me to catch on to that. You know, that all of a sudden I didn't know any of her friends," Stephanie Moyer recalled this week, sitting on the couch beside her husband and Tori's stepfather, Dean Moyer, in their North Cornwall Township home.

"They were not coming into the house," Moyer said. "They were not introducing themselves, and she was very upset when I'd take her to school. I drove her to school every single day. And there toward the end of her senior year she was just crying, and she wasn't looking the same. I tried to get answers from her friends that I did know, and nobody was really giving me any answers."

Frustrated and worried, Moyer did the only thing she could think of to find out what Tori was getting into -- she read her journal.

What Moyer learned in the pages of her daughter's diary was a parent's worst nightmare. Her teenage girl had become a heroin addict.

That nightmare turned into a living hell three weeks ago when Herr, 18, died from apparent complications of heroin withdrawal, eight days after being incarcerated in the Lebanon County Correctional Facility.

Now the Moyers are looking for answers to how and why it happened.

Details scant 

A Pennsylvania State Police investigation -- standard procedure in all death cases at the prison -- is underway, and the Moyer's have hired an attorney, preventing Lebanon County prison Warden Robert Karnes and other county officials from speaking directly about the case.

What is known is that on March 27 Herr and her boyfriend, 21-year-old Jesse Roldan, were arrested in their North 12th Street apartment by Lebanon police, who were helping another law enforcement agency serve a fugitive bench warrant on Roldan. The warrant was issued for Roldan's failure to show up for sentencing on retail theft and drug charges that included possession with intent to deliver heroin, to which he pleaded guilty on Nov. 20.

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Warden says prison followed protocols

Using a drug-sniffing dog, police found 69 packets of heroin in the house. Herr claimed the drugs were hers and was charged with possession with intent to deliver. Roldan was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. Both were placed in Lebanon County prison.

Also what is known is that four days later, on the night of March 31, Herr lost consciousness at the prison. She received treatment there and was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital. Within hours, she was air-lifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital, where she remained in a coma before dying on Easter Sunday, April 5.

According to the only official report, submitted by Karnes at last week's county Prison Board meeting, Karnes went to the jail the night Herr lost consciousness "at approximately 10:15 p.m. due to a medical emergency involving an inmate. Upon initial questioning of staff, all operational protocols appeared to be followed. The PA State Police were notified of this incident and responded as per procedure."

The Moyers don't know much more about what happened to their daughter between the time she was incarcerated and hospitalized.

The Moyers are receiving information, including some from inmates released since their daughter's death, through a Facebook page called "Justice for Victoria 'Tori' Herr" that was started by a friend.

There are allegations that Herr did not receive proper medical care prior to collapsing at the prison and in the immediate moments that followed.

But the Moyers do not know how accurate that information is and said they are waiting for the state police investigation to conclude. They hope a security video will shed light on the truth.

'Just want lemonade'

The last time Stephanie Moyer spoke with her daughter was by telephone on Monday, March 30. Moyer said it was their first talk since her daughter had been jailed, and she sounded disoriented.

"I was like, 'Tori what happened?' and she said, 'I don't know, mom. But I'm seeing people die. I'm going to die,'" Moyer recalled. "And I said, 'Tori, you are not going to die, honey, you are just going through withdrawal. And she said, 'I'm so thirsty. I'm so thirsty. I just want lemonade. They won't give me lemonade. Can you put money on my account?'"

Moyer said she asked her daughter how to do that.

"She said, 'I've got to go,'" Moyer said. "And I said, 'Wait! How do I put money on your account?' And she said, 'I don't know, maybe go into the jail. I've got to go.' And that was the end of our conversation. It was the last time I talked to her."

Later that day, the Moyers went to the jail at 730 E. Walnut St. in South Lebanon Township to set up a cash account for their daughter. When they asked to see her, they were told she was in quarantine, and they would not be able to see her until the following week, Stephanie Moyer said. Next, they asked how Tori was doing and were told she was fine.

But Stephanie Moyer was not convinced her daughter was fine.

"I had concerns, I know Tori mentally," she said. "I knew this would be a huge thing to bear mentally and physically. Her physical condition just wasn't that great. She was so thin and tiny. You know, just being an addict alone."

The day after trying to visit her daughter, Stephanie Moyer said she tried to contact her prison counselor but was unsuccessful. That night, before going to bed, she turned off her phone, thinking that at least her daughter was away from the threat of heroin.

In a coma

"Everybody always says there are two options for an addict: they are either dead or in jail," Moyer said. "And she was in jail, so I honestly thought she was in the best place. I mean the best place with the circumstances."

The next morning she woke at 5:30 a.m. to find out that was not the case. A message left by Karnes at 11:20 p.m. the night before informed her that Tori was in critical condition.

The next few hours were frustrating for the Moyers as they tried to find out where their daughter was and how she was doing.

Moyer said she eventually was told her daughter had "a heart attack or something" and that she was at Lehigh Valley Hospital.

Why she was air-lifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital instead of transported to Hershey Medical Center is another mystery, although the Moyers said their daughter received excellent care there.

The Moyers rushed to Lehigh Valley Hospital to be by their daughter's bedside. They found her unconscious and hooked to tubes.

Dean Moyer said a Lehigh Valley doctor told him Tori had been without oxygen at the prison for eight to 10 minutes.

"She was in a coma," Stephanie Moyer said. "She had brain swelling. Her brain had swelled. They said they (the prison medical staff) did CPR on her for 33 to 40 minutes until they called 9-1-1. That's what the doctor told us. So you do the math."

Stephanie Moyer said she has spoken to Karnes since her daughter's death, and he has been unable to shed any light on her treatment prior to her losing consciousness.

"Heroin in itself, you don't die from withdrawal of heroin, but you do die if you are not given liquids and certain things because you are dehydrating, because they vomit and they are going to the bathroom all of the time," Stephanie Moyer said. "So they have to have fluids. Whether or not she got those fluids, I would venture to say no, because she died. Unless there is another reason why she died."

Parents tried to help

The Moyers are not blind to the fact that their daughter bears responsibility for her untimely death.

After learning that Tori was addicted to heroin, the Moyers said they tried to convince her to get treatment. Efforts to get her to a methadone clinic were unsuccessful.

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Photo by Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily News 

Stephanie and Dean Moyer are waiting for answers about their daughter's death. A photo of Tori Herr, a Cedar Crest High School graduate, in her graduation cap and gown is stored on the family's iPad.

"I'm not saying that Tori didn't make her own choices as well. I know that it was her choice to decide to use heroin. No one put a gun to her head and told her to do it," Stephanie Moyer said. "Most of her school life, she was in honors classes. She was extremely intelligent and never had a criminal run-in, ever. And when we had found out that she was using heroin about a year ago, we tried to help her immediately. Immediately we tried to talk to her and everything."

But Herr resisted, eventually moving in with her boyfriend.

The Moyers did not like their daughter's relationship with Roldan, whom she started dating in May, about the time they discovered she was using heroin.

"At first, I was not happy with her being with Jesse," Stephanie Moyer said. "I mean, that was part of the reason why she was hiding from me and everything, because she was with Jesse, and I knew he had a criminal background. I did not know he was a heroin addict or anything like that. But I knew he had a criminal background."

As they got to know Roldan, Stephanie Moyer said, she and her husband began to understand that he had made bad choices, just like their daughter.

"Once we got to know Jesse, we had tried to help him. Especially Dean, when (Roldan) got out (of jail) the first time, through the church and stuff. But he wasn't interested," Stephanie Moyer recalled. "We very much saw potential in him. He seemed like he was a good guy with bad choices. But honestly, at this point in time, I don't know where I'd put him. I have issues to work out with him. But I can honestly say that he is the one person who could have truly helped her."

The Moyers said their daughter's love for Roldan caused her to claim the heroin was hers.

More than 200 people came to their daughter's funeral held at Calvary Chapel on April 11.

"Like the pastor said at her services, people's choices, the choices that we make, affect so many people," Stephanie Moyer said. "Her boyfriend Jesse had a bench warrant out for his arrest. ... (If) he had just went to court that day, none of this would have happened as far as her going to jail. She would be at U-Turn (for Christ, a residential drug treatment center) right now. And she'd be clean, and he'd be clean.

"So the choice that he made, he will have to live with the rest of his life. And certainly I am going to have to live with it the rest of my life. And all of Tori's friends and family will, too."

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Submitted - Lebanon Daily News Stepanie and Dean Moyer submitted this photo of their daughter, Tori Herr.


This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF. 

Published in Lebanon, News

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