BESSEMER, Pa. (WKBN) – Meghan Eells brought pictures of her brother, William Swagger, that were taken before she said drugs ravaged his life.
There were pictures of him with his buddies cavorting on dirt bikes, in uniform for the Mohawk Little Warriors, on a family vacation to Florida and with one of the family’s many Labradors they had growing up.
Eells said she wanted to talk to a reporter because she wanted people to know Swagger is not the person reports have made him out to be.
Police in Shenango Township caught Swagger Wednesday night after authorities in Columbiana County said he assaulted a paramedic and leapt out of an ambulance earlier this week near state Route 11 near Elkton. He was being taken from the Columbiana County Jail, where he was being held on charges, to a hospital because he hurt his ankle after flipping over a rail.
When he was injured, Swagger was released from custody and Mahoning County officials were told they could pick him up at the hospital, but he never made it.
Swagger had been in the jail because of a warrant for an OVI case, but he appeared in court for that warrant and was being held for another warrant in Mahoning County.
Eells said she does not condone her brother’s actions and that he deserves to be punished.
But speaking Thursday from the gazebo at the borough building in Bessemer where she lives, she said she wanted people to know her brother was a different person before he became addicted to opiates.
“I love him. I do,” she said through tears. “But he has to straighten up.”
Her father, Robert Swagger, struggled with drug addiction himself off and on for 25 years before he died of an overdose in July 2017.
She said her brother has been addicted to drugs since he was 13, when he was prescribed painkillers for treatments he received for having tubes in his ears.
“Billy must have liked that feeling so much,” Eells said. “He’s never been the same.”
Eells said her brother loved to ride on his dirt bikes.
“He loved that adrenaline rush.”
“It’s so hard to explain or even put into words,” she said of the anxiety she feels being close to someone struggling with an addiction.
Eells said it’s a never-ending wave of anxiety that has ripped her family apart and makes it hard to function at times. She cringes whenever the phone rings.
The days this week her brother was missing were especially bad.
“We didn’t know if he was dead,” she said. “All the family hasn’t been able to sleep.”
Eells hopes her brother will be able to get the strength to kick his addiction for good.
She said he has had periods of sobriety and gone through treatment several times in the past.
She said what is happening to her family is happening to families dealing with opiate addiction across the country.
“It breaks my heart. It’s all over America. It’s ripped my family apart and it’s ripped a lot of other families apart.”