Collier vigil remembers those who died from drugs, alcohol

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Ray Kilmer could have been a star.

Instead, the day he was supposed to sign a six-figure contract to play baseball with the Houston Astros, Kilmer said he showed up drunk and blew his shot. It was a much-needed wake-up call for Kilmer, then 23.

In fact, it saved his life.

“If I would have gotten that money, it would have gone to my head,” said Kilmer, now a 38-year-old Collier firefighter who has been sober since 1996. “I would have kept doing it, and it would have killed me.”

On Thursday night Kilmer, and his 10-year-old daughter, Erin, joined about 100 other people for a candle-light vigil in front of the Collier County courthouse to remember to those who are struggling with, and have lost their lives to, drugs and alcohol.

The event, which ran from 6:30 to about 8 p.m., was hosted by Drug Free Collier and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

The vigil was part of Red Ribbon Week, a national anti-drug campaign.

The Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education (NOPE) Task Force, has been holding the event nationally for three years, but this was the first in Collier County.

More than 22 million Americans struggle with addiction, said Maria Victoria Delgado, executive director of Drug Free Collier.According to the 2008 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey, 44 percent of Collier County high school students reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, 18 percent reported using marijuana and 12 percent reported using prescription drugs.

Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said substance abuse costs both lives and dollars. To make a difference, the county needs to focus on prevention, intervention, enforcement, and rehabilitation, he said.

“We can make a positive difference in Collier County,” Rambosk told the crowd. “We need your help to do it.”

Prior to the vigil, attendees wrote messages to loved ones on a memorial wall erected in front of the courthouse steps. The wall will be displayed around the county.

As part of the ceremony, Mary Young recalled losing her 20-year-old son to drugs. On a September morning in 2006, she went to wake her son up, and instead found him dead in bed.

“There he was, my beautiful son lying dead from a drug overdose,” Young said. “I’d never felt the pain that I had felt before that day. I never knew there was such a pain.”

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, contact the David Lawrence Center at (239) 455-8500, ext. 2209, for a complimentary screening.

Connect with Ryan Mills at

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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