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Derrick Hutchins, 24, grew up as a typical country boy.
The son of a EMT/volunteer for the Loretto Fire Department and an elementary school teacher, Derrick had a very normal life. Tony and Mary Kaye Hutchins raised Derrick and his two younger sisters, Erin, 21, and Kathleen, 16, on a beautiful piece of property in Loretto, just feet away from where Mary Kaye grew up as a child.
Derrick loved to hunt, fish and play the guitar.
He played basketball and went to conservation camp every year as a kid.
He did well in school, and was an extremely hard worker. Derrick always had a job. Whether it was milking cows in middle school or working at Central Kentucky Tool as a high schooler, he always worked very hard to earn his keep.
But, after his cousin and best friend, Travis Newton, died of cancer in 2002, Derrick changed. Travis, 14, was a year older than Derrick, and they were extremely close.
“They were like brothers,” Mary Kaye said.
When Travis died, something inside Derrick changed, according to Tony.
“Travis was that brother that Derrick never had,” he said. “We didn’t realize how much he was mourning the loss of Travis.”
“He was mad,” Mary Kaye said. “He was mad at God.”
In a letter Derrick wrote years later, he described the impact Travis’s death had on him.
When Travis died that hurt me so bad. I still hurt from that and I turned away from God and I got mad at God.
Derrick’s anger caused him to become more closed off from his parents, especially Tony. He no longer wanted to go hunting or fishing with his dad. But, being a typical teenager, Tony and Mary Kaye didn’t think much of it.
In high school, Derrick continued to do well in school, and didn’t get into much trouble. By the time he was a senior in high school, his parents discovered he was drinking alcohol, and they punished him for it
“But, his behavior wasn’t out of the ordinary for a teenage boy,” Mary Kaye said.
What they didn’t realize, however, was that he was also smoking marijuana.
“How did we not know that?” Mary Kaye said, still questioning herself.
His sister, Erin, knew it. But, she wouldn’t dare tell on her big brother.
“I didn’t think much about it when he was smoking weed in high school because so many people did that,” Erin said. “And I would have never told on him for anything, ever.”
Before Derrick graduated, his parents began to suspect that he was using more than just alcohol and marijuana. His personality changed, and it was hard to get him up out of bed in the mornings. He seemed angrier, and had a really short temper.
When he turned 18 in March of 2007, near the end of his senior year in high school, he moved out of his parents’ home.
“That was a big turning point,” Mary Kaye said.
“He knew he could make his own decisions and we couldn’t tell him what to do anymore,” Tony said.
Derrick graduated from high school, and continued to work at Central Kentucky Tool. A few months after graduation, he began working as a millwright with Summit Staffing in Texas. He traveled all over the world with his job. And while his parents were glad he had a job, they said working as a millwright was another downfall because Derrick would work six to eight weeks, and then come home with a lot of money and a lot of down time.
“We knew something was going on because he was staying in bed all day long and staying up all night,” Mary Kaye said. “He was looking bad.”
Another warning sign was that Derrick began asking his parents for money and he never did that before.
Desperate for help, Mary Kaye went to one of her co-workers at West Marion Elementary, then-family resource director Chuck Spalding, and asked if he would talk to Derrick. He did, and Derrick admitted to him that he was addicted to pain pills.
Derrick talked about his first experience with pills in a letter he wrote to his sisters.
One day I tried that first pill and as soon as I did all the worries and stress that I had in the world was just gone. I loved it and I was hooked and then the down hill battle began.
Derrick also confided in his aunt Marcia, Mary Kaye’s sister, and she encouraged him to talk to his parents, which he did.
“We were so happy that he talked to us,” Mary Kaye said. “We enrolled him in an intake program in E’town but it didn’t work. He got worse. We just kept begging him to stop.”
But, Derrick didn’t stop. In fact, his pill addiction worsened, so Mary Kaye and Tony took him to a suboxone clinic in Danville. Derrick claimed he wanted to get clean, and they continued to take him to that clinic for a year.
“We thought we were doing the right thing,” Mary Kaye said.
But, Derrick’s addiction did not improve. In fact, they are convinced the suboxone made things worse.
“Suboxone is not the answer,” Tony said. “You’re trying to get off one drug but becoming addicted to another drug.”
Mary Kaye said later they found out that once someone takes suboxone they can’t go back to the same drug they were taking and still get the same effect. Derrick found that out, too, apparently because he moved on from popping pills to shooting up heroin.
“When he got on heroin, that was pretty much the end of him,” Mary Kaye said.
Derrick began lying and stealing from them in order to pay for his habit.
Mary Kaye said she and Tony didn’t know what to do or where to turn for help. And they didn’t dare want anyone to know what was going on.
“I wasn’t about to tell anyone I worked with what was going on,” Mary Kaye said. “Even my family, I didn’t talk about it with them. None of them really knew how bad it was. It was only talked about at home.”
Erin, who was in her first year of college at Western Kentucky University at the time, said she avoided coming home because of it.
“It’s all that was talked about all the time,” she said.
She was angry with her parents because she felt like they were enabling her brother. Kathleen, who was only in elementary school at the time, didn’t talk about it at all. She never really knew the “real” Derrick. She only knew the drug addict Derrick.
“The drug is a like a disease,” Tony said, “but it was killing the whole family.”
During the summer of 2011, when they should have been celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, Mary Kaye and Tony attended their first session with Central Kentucky Lifeline. Mary Kaye had seen the program advertised in the newspaper and was desperate for help. They were both very apprehensive at first, but after the first couple of sessions, they felt more empowered to deal with Derrick and his drug addiction. And they also felt relieved to see that there were other families just like them dealing with the same problems.
“It gave us peace of mind,” Tony said. “It rejuvenated our batteries. They would say things about their loved ones and it was like they were reading from our life.”
Every week, Mary Kaye said she and Tony felt stronger. They stopped enabling Derrick, and stopped giving him money.
In September of 2011, Derrick stole from them again, only this time they pressed charges and he went to jail. On Sept. 9, 2011, Derrick was charged with third-degree burglary, which was amended to second-degree criminal trespassing. He served eight days in jail. He called his parents everyday and begged his parents to bail him out, but they refused. They wanted him to stay there. He was safer there. He couldn’t use drugs there. And maybe it would convince him to go to rehab.
“It’s the hardest thing you can see… your child in that orange jump suit and hand cuffs,” Mary Kaye said. “I just sat in the back of the courtroom and cried.”
While in jail, Derrick met the jail chaplain, Mike Fenwick, who he said saved his life and convinced him to go to rehab.
In September of 2011, Derrick enrolled into the Second Chance Outreach Center in Jamestown. During his 30-day treatment, he wrote to his parents about his newly found faith.
Dear mom and dad,
I have been born again as God’s son. I know that I still have much work to do before I am worthy of him though. But I can feel his presence all around me. The day that Mike Fenwick came and visited me in jail and talked with me was when I was surrendered and gave it all up to God and asked for his forgiveness. Me and Mike got down on our knees and he prayed for me and then I prayed. And after we finished immediately I felt a peace that I have never felt before. I knew I had been born again.
During his treatment at Second Chance, Derrick gained 20 pounds and looked healthier than he had in months, Tony said.
When his parents picked him up, they felt as if they finally had their son back.
“It was like Derrick was back,” Tony said. “The demons were gone.”
Both Tony and Mary Kaye had high hopes that Derrick would stay clean, but in less than a month he was using again. In fact, he almost overdosed and died in October of 2011, but they didn’t know about it until they received a bill from the hospital in the mail.
The week before Christmas, Derrick stole from his cousin, and in fear of going back to jail, he agreed to go back to rehab. This time, he stayed at the Second Chance Outreach Center for four months. He gained 40 pounds during his treatment and when he was released in April of 2012, he was focused on being a better son, brother and father.
His son, Preston, was born on July 5, 2011. But, because of Derrick’s drug abuse, he wasn’t able to have regular visitation with him. But, he was determined to stay clean, go back to work and get custody of his son. He stayed clean for a total of 10 months, he was working as a millwright again and had saved enough money to buy a car. He was living on his own and seemed happy, Mary Kaye said. Derrick was able to see his son every other weekend during supervised visitation at his parents’ house. Derrick wasn’t allowed to be alone with Preston, and that really bothered him, Mary Kaye said.
“I do think he really wanted to be a father to him,” she said.
In September of 2012, Derrick went to court to try and get custody of Preston. Mary Kaye said she tried to prepare him for what was likely to happen, but he had his hopes set on getting custody. When his request was denied, Mary Kaye said his entire demeanor changed. When he left court that day, Mary Kaye begged him to stay with her. She pleaded with him not to use drugs.
“I knew he was going to go use,” she said. “It was like he gave up.”
Derrick spiraled out of control. His drug abuse was worse than ever. And on his 24th birthday, March 25, 2013, Derrick went back to rehab a third time. This time, his parents took him to Recovery Works in Lexington. He stayed there for two weeks. And he continued to write to his parents and sisters.
Dear Erin and Kat,
I know I have done a lot of things to hurt and upset both of you and I am so sorry for that because I love you both so much. I hate that I have not been the big brother that I should have been. I hope that ya'll can forgive me.
Please, please do not ever do drugs because if it doesn’t kill you it is going to ruin everything in your life. I just love ya’ll so much and hope that ya’ll can look at me and learn something from my mess.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I guess there are so many things that you don't realize when you're living life high everyday, all day and now I see that wasn't me, not the Derrick that ya'll know I am. I lost that person and didn't even know it. I am done with drugs!
I don't want this life I've been living anymore. I don't desire to ever touch another drug.
I just wanted to tell ya’ll how much I love ya’ll and how sorry I am for everything that I have put ya’ll through. I just wanted to let you know how thankful I am to have a family like I do. I love you.
When Derrick came home from Recovery Works he was more energized and excited than ever before, Mary Kaye said. He was working hard to make amends with everybody he had wronged, and he was determined to stay off drugs.
As a part of his treatment plan, he met with a doctor in Lexington who advised him to take a new medicine that was supposed to help stop his cravings for drugs. And he was warned that if he took this medicine and did heroin he would get deathly sick.
On May 8, Derrick checked himself into the hospital. He was dehydrated from being sick all night. He had used, and was suffering the consequences. The next day, he showed up at Mary Kaye’s school.
“He looked like death,” Mary Kaye said. “He could barely walk.”
He asked her to go to Wal-Mart to get him some Phenergan. She agreed to, only if he went with her, but he refused. On her way to Lebanon, she called him on his cell phone as he drove in front of her.
“Derrick, you’re going to die,” she remembers telling him. “Do you realize you’re going to die? Those were the last words I said to him.”
He said, “I know, Momma,” and hung up the phone.
That evening, Mary Kaye was outside mowing when she saw Derrick’s truck go up to the barn near her sister Marcia's house. She assumed he was going to talk to Marcia. But, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Derrick had gone to the barn to hang himself.
They would find out later that he sent his girlfriend a text message shortly before he killed himself.
Now I won’t be hurting anyone anymore.
Once they discovered Derrick in the barn, Tony, who is trained to respond to emergency situations as an EMT, attempted to resuscitate him with CPR.
“That was the last gift I could give him,” Tony said.
Derrick was taken to Spring View Hospital and then transferred to U. of L. Medical Center. He had a faint pulse, and was on life support. The next day, May 10, the family decided to take him off life support and said their goodbyes.
“We fought so hard to save him,” Mary Kaye said.
She and Tony had both prepared themselves to one day get the news that Derrick died of an overdose, but they never imagined he would commit suicide. And, while suicide is often viewed as a selfish act, Derrick’s family believes he was trying to be selfless when he took his own life.
“Derrick was a selfless person. When he was good, he would help anybody,” Mary Kaye said. “I think he was trying to protect all of us. He was tired of hurting us.”
Tony said Derrick was a giving person, which is why the family decided to donate his organs. His liver was the only organ able to be donated, and the transplant was successful. The recipient is doing well, Tony said. They hope to meet him one day.
“That was one last thing Derrick got to do… he got to give,” Tony said.
Mary Kaye said she has a sense of peace knowing that Derrick is no longer suffering, but now they are left to suffer. Just the other night, she and Tony began looking at designs for Derrick’s tombstone and it literally took her breath away.
“I want him back,” Mary Kaye said. “Even though I know in my head he’s gone. It doesn’t feel like it.”
Tony and Mary Kaye hope by talking openly about Derrick’s drug addiction and suicide it might help others who are suffering. They want people, especially parents, to know that there is help available.
“You need to get rid of your pride and find help, whether it is in Marion County, Louisville, Lexington or somewhere else,” Mary Kaye said. “Help is out there. Just don’t give up. You have to keep loving them and realizing they are human beings that have an addiction.”
Erin’s biggest piece of advice for siblings experiencing drug addiction is to talk about it and try to understand that addiction is a disease. Understanding that is half the battle, she said.
“It’s not that we don’t want to understand, we just don’t know how,” Erin said. “I was angry. I dealt with it through anger. I wish I had told him I loved him more.”
During their struggles with Derrick, Mary Kaye and Tony learned that Marion County is in the “hot zone for heroin.”
From 2000 to 2010, there was a 55 percent increase in the number of people who died from overdoses in Kentucky (nearly 3,100 deaths), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, according to local law enforcement officials, heroin has replaced prescription pain pills as the drug of choice in much of central Kentucky.
Tony and Mary Kaye said if there is anyone out there dealing with drug abuse in their family who needs advice or someone to talk to they are here to help.
“Our kids are dying,” Mary Kaye said. “We need to take back our community.”