Editor’s note: First of a
TALLAHASSEE — Linda Courtright was watching television with her four kids and her husband.
They weren’t lounging together in a family room adorned with framed goofy smiles after meeting a famous white-gloved mouse, or of eyes widened by magic after whispering secret wishes to a red-suited older man with rosy cheeks. They weren’t passing a bowl of buttery popcorn while talking about each other’s days during muted commercial breaks.
There’s no Norman Rockwell painting for this American family moment:
Linda, the mom, seemingly was sleeping soundly on one bed in a North Port motel room. She actually was unresponsive after having snorted crushed pills that night with her husband and 15-year-old son.
Nicholas Block, her son, lay so still and so cold in another bed that his younger siblings covered him with a blanket.
Billy, the dad, returned to the Budget Inn off Tamiami Trail after attending a court appearance. Sticking out of his pocket was a pill bottle, which was more empty than it should be. He avoided going back into the motel room, though, because of all the police.
On the morning of June 19, 2009 this is what life looked like for Linda and Billy Courtright. This is what life looked like for their three younger children — the oldest of which was 10 at the time. This is what life looked like for Nicholas, who died in that motel bed from a drug overdose.
“In my life, I never imagined this would happen,” Linda, 39, said during her first interview last week at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee.
From dating to
Linda could have lived a simple life, like so many others.
“I dropped out in the 11th grade from Venice High School,” she said. “It was a stupid thing to do.”
She and Billy met while they were in middle school, and the two dated on and off over the years. Linda also occasionally dated an Englewood man, who left her after finding out she was pregnant, she said. At 19, Linda gave birth to Nicholas.
Billy and Linda married in 1997, and later had three children together.
Billy’s job working on pool cages caused him to move around a bit, so Linda and their three young kids followed. Nicholas moved in with his grandparents in North Port. He was starting school, and Linda wanted him to have some stability.
“Nicholas was a good boy who liked bowling, baseball and fishing,” Linda said. “But also he had his troubles too. He was loved by everyone.”
Theirs could have been a working-class, blue-collar world with the occasional assistance from food stamps or Medicaid.
But Billy liked to smoke marijuana, and both parents liked cocaine. After Billy hurt his back, oxycodone entered the party scene.
“He was still a good father, even though he was doing drugs,” Linda said. “He put them ahead of the kids.”
At some point, Nicholas started getting into trouble and stopped going to North Port High School.
“I don’t know when he started having problems,” Linda said.
Many mothers could recall details from a childhood trauma, such as picking blades of grass intertwined in her child’s hair after he fell from the tree in the neighbor’s backyard. Many mothers could remember holding the hand of the unbroken arm, and wiping tears from the flushed cheeks.
Linda’s memories are blurred, the details as vague as an ordinary trip to a walk-in clinic for a run-of-the-mill flu.
Nicholas had been admitted to All Children’s Hospital, possibly in 2008. It may have involved something with his hip. He had drugs in his system, she remembers. There was another situation — she thinks it happened before the hospital stay — in which Nicholas was vomiting and incoherent.
“I told him he needed help,” Linda said. “He knew he had a problem.”
Nicholas, whom friends called “Nick,” had been arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana charge. Linda took her son to his final drug test and drug class on
June 18, 2009. Her son passed his drug test, and he told his mom he “couldn’t wait to get (high).”
That same day, Linda had a prescription filled for 40 oxycodone pills. Billy also had a prescription filled, but his oxycodone haul was 210.
In the first-floor corner room facing the swimming pool, in Room 107, Linda began snorting oxycodone with her husband and 15-year-old son.
By the next morning, only 17 of Billy’s 210 pills remained.
This is the portrait of a family ravaged by oxycodone: three kids became orphans, two parents became federal inmates, and one teen died.
“That was not the thing to do. I wasn’t thinking,” Linda cried. “If I could do it over ... I wish it had been me instead of Nicholas. He was so young.”
(For more on Linda’s struggle coping with guilt over her son’s death, the stigma associated with it, and attempts to become the mother she wasn’t, see Monday’s edition of the Sun.)