Tribune-Herald staff writer
It was late on the evening of Jan. 25, and Geraldine Gohier, 21, had awakened needing to use the restroom.
She looked over at her boyfriend in the bed next to her. Chucky Dias Oliveira III, the 22-year-old father of her children, was purple.
"And I knew he was gone," Gohier said through tears that streamed down her face as she stood at the head of the Keaau High School band room.
Gohier was joined by friends and family Thursday morning to share her tragic story with a group of about 50 Keaau students. It was an attempt, she said beforehand, to reclaim something good from the horrible loss with which she and her son, 4, and daughter, 3, had been battling for just over a month, ever since Oliveira was ripped from their lives by the disturbingly popular trend in drug abuse among young people known as "crunking."
East Hawaii police say that crunk has caught on among students here, including in high schools, intermediate schools and even elementary schools.
"I had a fourth-grader tell me that he had seen it in the schools. They can buy pills for $3 to $5," said Officer Robert Stewart, who speaks regularly at area schools and events to discuss drug abuse.
Crunk is a deceptively sweet concoction, he said, consisting of over-the-counter cough syrup and a lemon-lime flavored soft drink (such as Sprite), mixed with crushed up prescription painkillers.
"It's popular due to the soft drink being palatable to the kids," added Detective Ian Lee Loy. "It's sweet, it's tasty, and it affords the medium to ingest the narcotic."
People illegally obtain the prescription drugs either through friends, taking them from the family medicine cabinet, or buying them from drug dealers, police said.
Drinkers experience a sense of whoozy euphoria, Stewart said, one that can be incredibly addictive, not to mention deadly. Overdoses can lead to difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and death. And prolonged exposure to the painkillers can do lasting damage to one's liver and other organs.
For Oliveira, the deadly consequences came soon after he began experimenting with the drink.
"My boyfriend had started crunking for about a week," Gohier said. "He said he liked the feeling. It made him feel loaded. ... Now, it's so sad, it hurts me. Staying in that house, it's weird. Me and my boyfriend was going to get married."
Sniffles and the stifling of tears could be heard throughout the room as students in the Keaau High Peer Education Program listened to Gohier speak from the heart. One young woman hung her head and silently sobbed as a friend massaged her shoulder.
Gohier's mother, Serena, said that the family had already spoken at Pahoa High, and they intend to continue to spread the word about the dangers of crunking, as well as other drugs and dangerous activities.
"We're here to share our tragedy with you folks in the hope that if not all of you, at least some of you can walk out of here with the knowledge you need to avoid something like this," she said.
Family friend Alicia Porter said that she, too, had experienced the dangerous after-effects of crunk. She'd received a phone call to pick up her boyfriend at the hospital after he'd overdosed on the drink.
"My other half, he tried crunk once. The next day, he woke up in the hospital and he didn't even know why he was there. It turned out he'd called the ambulance on himself," she said. "He thought he was dying. ... Now, he won't touch it."
Porter added that the best way for the students to avoid getting hooked on something like crunk is for them to support each other in the fight against peer pressure.
"It takes strength to stand up to someone saying 'Here, try this!' again and again and again," she said. "That's strong. To stand on their own two feet and say, 'No.'"
After the presentation, students were encouraged to fill out a form, anonymously answering questions and writing notes to Gohier.
"I am very sorry for your loss," wrote one student. "I also know someone who is doing the same thing, and I am afraid of the similar outcome to happen. I've tried to reach out to him but it does not seem to bother him. He is also a father, and I don't want my nephews to see him like this. I am really sorry you lost your love. May God bless your family. ..."
Another student said that his older brother regularly smokes marijuana and does crunk in front of him.
"I could not take it and started crying," he wrote. "He is angry all of the time, and I feel that I am slowly losing him day by day. He is not the big brother I once had, and it kills me. ... I just want my older brother back."
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.