Parents Seek Leniency In Court For Friend Who Gave Son Fatal Fentanyl Dose In Scranton
SCRANTON — Steeped in grief, two Kingsley parents who lost their son to a drug overdose more than two years ago sought mercy for the young man who admitted he provided the fatal dose of fentanyl.
On Monday, Lackawanna County Judge Margaret Bisignani Moyle measured it out.
Zachary Ross, 22, was sentenced to two years on the state intermediate punishment program. While Ross will spend some time at a state prison, his sentence is geared more toward recovering from his drug addiction than languishing on a prison block.
“You seem to be on a collision course with tragedy,” Moyle said. “If intervention isn’t made right away, you will become just another statistic.”
Ross pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, among other counts, in April for the March 18, 2016 death of 21-year-old Cody Albert. Albert went into respiratory arrest after chewing fentanyl patches Ross illegally obtained from a pharmacy in Scranton, prosecutors said.
Moyle mentioned in court that the crime precluded Ross from entering the state intermediate program. Albert’s parents, however, allowed the district attorney’s office to waive Ross’s ineligibility so he could be placed in the program.
The only way Ross can honor Albert’s life is by maintaining sobriety and living a crime-free life, Deputy District Attorney Gene Riccardo said. Albert’s parents, Linda and Dale Albert, also want Ross clean.
“These two individuals have shown extraordinary compassion,” Riccardo said.
Linda and Dale Albert both addressed the judge before she imposed Ross’ sentence, detailing the night they learned their son fatally overdosed and trying to cope since then.
Hours after Linda Albert received a text message alerting her to her son’s overdose, she sat in a dimly lit waiting room at Geisinger Community Medical Center. With growing dread and hopelessness taking root in her heart, a man with a clipboard beckoned her to a small room where a crying doctor told her that they did everything they could to save her son’s life.
Her voice cracked as she spoke Monday. Ross repeatedly dabbed his eyes with a tissue too.
State police charged Ross in September 2016, with drug delivery resulting in death, a first-degree felony with a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
Albert went to see Ross, who had texted him that he needed help because he was going through opioid withdrawal.
Albert drove Ross to a pharmacy in Scranton where Ross obtained fentanyl patches by using a prescription made out to his mother, a cancer patient.
Together, they chewed the fentanyl patches Ross’s Scranton home. The full dose of the extremely potent narcotic released all at once rather than over the course of several hours.
The fentanyl interacted with other legally prescribed drugs in Albert’s system and he went into respiratory arrest. Zachary Ross called an ambulance. His brother, Josh Ross, sent Linda Albert the text message which, for the Alberts, signaled a growing darkness: “Is this Cody Albert’s mom?”
“I’ve been grieving for over 27 months and I will grieve for the rest of my life,” Dale Albert said in court.
Ross carries with him an “enormous guilt,” his attorney, Ernest Preate, told the judge.
Moyle said she believes he does. Ross has since attempted suicide, relapsed and has been jailed for bail violations, she said.
Ross needs treatment because he does not know how to deal with his addiction, Preate said. A report compiled from a pre-sentence investigation of Ross reads like a “prelude to his obituary,” he said.
“Let him get into this program so he has a chance at life,” Preate said.
The program works through a gradual stepping down from a state facility to an in-patient facility and then an out-patient center. Ross will be gradually reintegrated into society over two years.
He will spend seven years on probation after his sentence. The judge ordered Ross to obtain his GED diploma, maintain employment and keep up with his mental health treatment. Random drug testing will occur throughout that time period.
Moyle wants a structure in place for Ross to maintain sobriety.
However, the first part of Ross’s punishment will be state prison. A sheriff’s deputy handcuffed Ross, openly weeping, as he turned to say goodbye to his mother. Ross’s girlfriend tried to get closer to him. A sheriff’s deputy stopped her and she ran from the courtroom.
Knees pressed against her forehead, she broke down on the floor of the hallway outside.
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