HOPATCONG - Peg Ross stood quietly on the sidewalk in front of the River Styx Grill restaurant Sunday afternoon, delicately holding a tattered photo of her daughter, Andie Nicole. She had no intention of talking to anyone about the painful loss of her 19-year-old daughter to a heroin overdose last year.
She surprised herself and opened up to anyone who wanted to know why she had the photo, why she was standing on the sidewalk.
Ross, who lived with her daughter in Mount Arlington when her daughter passed away, was just one of about 100 concerned residents who assembled in the area around the recently-opened and now closed restaurant, participating in a “peaceful rally, a protest against drugs.” On August 6, restaurant owner John Davieau was arrested and charged with multiple counts of possession and distribution of heroin at the restaurant and his other business, Royal Communications in Wharton.
“I swore I was never going to put her name out there like this, and here I am,” said Ross. “I didn’t want her to be known for just that, but I don’t think people understand the gravity of it,” she said, referring to the devastating effects heroin has on its victims and their families.
“I have grandkids in this town. We will not loose anymore children to these drugs,” she said.
Jim Bushe agrees. Bushe, who lives in Hopatcong, lost his 22-year-old son Travis, three years ago. He said it was important for him to be at the rally, supporting the efforts of his neighbors to bring awareness to the situation. To honor his son and to feel as if “he’s always watching me,” Bushe had a likeness of his son’s eyes tattooed on the back of his shaved head.
The rally was a collaborative effort between Hopatcong residents Robin Calandriello and Robyn DeLorenzo.
A few days after Davieau’s arrest, his wife, Sandy, manager at the restaurant, re-opened offering food only.
Calandriello was outraged. Earlier in the summer, Calandriello remembers reading a Lake Hopatcong News magazine article (“New Life for River Styx,” July, 4, 2013) about the couple and their plans to open a “family oriented” establishment. Calandriello, like many in town, felt betrayed.
“I got super upset. How dare he do this is our backyard,” she said passionately. While using Facebook to vent her anger and to “maybe start a protest” against the restaurant she came across DeLorenzo’s posts that also suggested protesting against the establishment.
Within days the women had the Hopatcong Against Drugs Facebook page up and running and a grassroots effort began.
In addition to residents from the borough and surrounding municipalities, members of the Hopatcong Fire Department, in full turnout gear, where there to lend their support, as well as a contingent from the Independent Lost Soul Motorcycle Club and Hopatcong Police Chief Robert E. Brennan.
Brennan, who was in street clothes, said he wanted to attend to lend his support and to show that the police are grateful for the efforts of the residents.
About a dozen boats floated in the water on each side of the River Styx Bridge, some just stopping to lend support, others displaying homemade or professionally made signs rallying against drug use in Hopatcong.
Hopatcong resident Dan McCarthy and his son, Justin, used canoes and homemade signs to get their message across. Justin handheld a sign urging “Dealers Go Away,” while Dan lashed two vertical poles to his canoe, hanging two signs between them, “Drug-Free Canoe” and Don’t Take Drugs. Take a Kid Fishing.” McMcCarthy is a commissioner on the Lake Hopatcong Commission representing Hopatcong.
The River Styx Grill has been closed for about a week and recently a Weichert ‘For Sale’ sign was placed next to the entrance. A call to the named agent confirmed that the sign is misleading, that the restaurant is not listed with the agent or Weichert.
For Peg Ross, she hopes her presence at the rally helps the people of Hopatcong to band together to fight against drugs.
“I’m hoping that people can see that it can happen to a decent kid who was brought up in a loving home,” she said of the power the drug had over her daughter.
“She was beautiful—people gravitated toward her,” said Ross, who, when asked if she would keep telling her daughter’s story said yes, she definitely would.
Robin DeLorenzo thanks the boaters who showed their support at Sunday's rally near the River Styx Bridge.
Robert Feltwater walks along River Styx Bridge displaying a sign made by a friend. Rally supporters are behind him, on both sides of the street.