A 4-year-old boy photographed in an SUV while his grandmother and an adult friend were passed out in the front seat from an apparent heroin overdose has been placed in the care of relatives in South Carolina, according to media reports and court officials.
The shocking photo, taken by a police officer and posted on the East Liverpool, Ohio, police department Facebook page, shows the grandmother, 50-year-old Rhonda Pasek, and an adult friend, 47-year-old James Lee Acord, slumped over in the front seat of an SUV.
An off-duty police officer pulled the vehicle over after he spotted it driving erratically. He said the driver finally hit the brakes and rammed the curb after nearly hitting a school bus.
“Minutes could've meant the difference between how it played out to what could've happened. Somebody could've been killed or seriously injured,” Thompson told WTOV-TV.
The police said they released the photo because they felt it was "time that the non-drug using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis."
According to a police report, Acord told Patrolman Kevin Thompson before he passed out that he was driving the woman to the hospital. Thompson said he called an ambulance when he noted that Pasek was turning blue. Both were arrested.
Pasek pleaded not guilty to endangering children, public intoxication and a seatbelt violation. She was jailed pending a court hearing Thursday, according to WTOV-TV. Acord pleaded no contest to charges of operating a vehicle while impaired and endangering children and was sentenced to 360 days in jail.
The officer's report said both were revived after a medical team administered Narcan, which is used to treat opiate overdose. While heroin is suspected as the drug they were using, a final determination awaits a lab analysis of a pink powdery substance Thompson reported finding in the car.
Brian Macala, an attorney who represents the 4-year-old boy's maternal great-grandparents, told NBC News that he has been placed with a great-aunt and great-uncle, Lori and Terry Lane, of Myrtle Beach, S.C. The arrangement was confirmed to NBC News by a Columbian County Court official.
According to The Review, the local newspaper in East Liverpool, juvenile court records show Pasek had been given custody of the child only six weeks ago.
Pasek's sister told NBC News that she has custody of the boy's 3-year-old brother. She says the children were taken in because Pasek's troubled son and girlfriend couldn't manage.
She told NBC News the couple has no education and no job and that her sister, Rhonda Pasek, had been trying for two years to get custody of the 4-year-old.
In an interview with The Review, the judge who awarded custody of the boy to Pasek on July 25 said "there was never any indication she was involved in drugs." He noted Pasek has been a constant presence in the boy's life.
"Had I known (Pasek) was unreliable, I certainly wouldn't have given her the child," Judge Thomas Baronzzi, of the Juvenile/Probate Court, told The Review.