BEULAH — Family members and authorities are scrambling for answers as the death toll mounts in a rash of Benzie County drug overdoses.
Authorities found a man, 25, dead of a suspected overdose in his parents' Benzonia home late Monday. That comes on the heels of Onekama resident Nikita Cheyenne Wheeler's apparent overdose death. She died May 14 at a home in Benzie County's Blaine Township.
And toxicology tests also recently confirmed that Beulah resident Michael Lee Everett, 21, died of a heroin overdose in March.
"We've been seeing an increase of this type of stuff in Benzie County," Benzie County Sheriff Rory Heckman said. "It's a trend we've been noticing, and obviously when people are dying as a result of it, it's more alarming."
Especially troubling is the young ages of the victims, Heckman said.
"They're making poor choices, obviously, but you hate to see them pay with their lives," he said.
The Benzonia man, who also had various downstate addresses, was dead when medical crews arrived at the home. His sister found him and called authorities, Heckman said. His parents were out of town and authorities are waiting to speak with them before releasing his name.
"Once again, he's another IV drug user, and we'll have to figure out what killed him," Heckman said. "Whatever he took, he injected."
Wheeler was at a party and ended up at a friend's residence in Blaine Township. Friends called authorities when they found her unresponsive. She was in possession of pills prescribed to her, Heckman said, but it's not clear if they caused the overdose.
"It's common practice to trade pills for other drugs, and we don't know if that happened in this case," Heckman said.
Wheeler had past troubles with drugs, but had been trying to get her life together, said her father, Michael Wheeler.
Michael Wheeler said he hopes authorities track down who provided the drugs that killed his daughter.
"They've got to figure out the cause here and do justice," he said.
Nikita Wheeler was several months pregnant at the time of her death. She hadn't been working, her father said, but was trying to obtain her high school diploma.
One of Everett's coworkers called 911 on March 6 after finding him unresponsive in his Beulah residence. Authorities responded to the North Center Street home and found drug paraphernalia, including a syringe.
Lisa Woodhall, his girlfriend at the time, told the Record-Eagle in March that Everett self-injected heroin. Everett's family members don't believe Woodhall's story and also said they were unaware of any prior drug use.
Heckman said his office will seek charges against Woodhall, and possibly others connected to Everett's death. They weren't able to move forward with the case without a toxicology report.
"That confirms what we believed," he said.
Jennifer Anderson, Everett's mother, said she wants Woodhall held accountable.
"It's just sad," she said. "I'll never get to see my son again."
As for the other deaths, Anderson said it's a disturbing trend.
"It's scary," she said. "It really is."
Drug deaths are hard to fight, particularly because different factors contribute. But authorities will renew their efforts to trace drug sources.
"You try to connect where the drugs are coming from," Heckman said. "Is it a single source or a variety of sources? You've got to track down the dealers."