How one person’s needless fear led to an unnecessary death

Kim Alfieri will never forget the date June 27, 2018.

Because it was that day her daughter, Allison Elizabeth Gaynor, took her last breath at the tender age of 24. Allison was, as many who knew her would tell you, a gentle soul. Her last and final tribute — an obituary that appeared on the very pages of this newspaper — described her as a young woman who “had the biggest heart.”

She loved her family unconditionally.

She had a great affection for her cats and was known to treat them as though they were humans — as if they were children of her own.

And despite all the beautiful things Ally possessed in this life, there was something else — something that can grab a hold of anyone, a hold of the best of us.

She also had an affinity for opiates. And it was those hideous drugs that wound up taking her life that late-June day, just a little over a month ago.

To understand all of this, let’s go back to the day she left this world — and a few days before.

Alfieri says her daughter, who had struggled with the demons of addiction for a while in her short time on earth, had been clean for quite some time. But like every mother, Alfieri says she knew something was wrong with Ally — and worried she would relapse if she hadn’t already.

If only her instincts had been wrong.

Alfieri says that fateful day, Ally and two of her friends copped heroin. They took it.

That same day, the trio stopped at a fast-food joint on Passaic Avenue in Harrison, just past the Bridge Street Bridge. At some point, Ally disappeared and went into the ladies’ room. Five minutes went by. Then 10. Then 20. Then 30.

At this point, someone in the triumvirate, apparently, realized too much time had gone by. He called 9-1-1. The other person they were with took off and left, scared. By the time EMTs got to Ally, 30+ minutes had gone by. The first responders were able to get a faint heartbeat — but the truth is, it was too late.

Ally died on scene of a heroin overdose.

Her friend, a man, waited too long to call 9-1-1, apparently because he was too afraid something would happen to him when police arrived. According to Alfieri, had he called 9-1-1 even so much as 10 or so minutes earlier, we wouldn’t be telling Ally’s story, because she would still be alive.

What’s worse? Alfieri says this same man is someone who Ally saved just weeks earlier by administering Narcan after he had overdosed.

Ally knew — but this guy didn’t — that when you’re with someone who overdoses, and do what you can to help, in most cases, you cannot be arrested, charged or prosecuted. So instead of sharing a story of triumph — how Ally’s friend saved her in return, we instead share the story of how people must know there is a Good Samaritan law on Jersey’s books. If someone you are with overdoses, and you’ve taken drugs, too — you won’t be arrested for helping.

Instead, you’ll simply be doing what one person was too scared to do — help.

George King is the Chief of the Kearny Police Department. He explained the law and how the Kearny Police Department — and other departments statewide — handle it. And it’s very simple.

If you, or someone you’re with, is overdosing — and someone calls for help — no one will be prosecuted or arrested so long as distribution of the drug is not involved.

“If someone is overdosing, call the police,” King stressed. “The spirit of the law is not to prosecute anyone who anyone overdosing and who is in possession or under the influence. You will not be arrested. You will not be charged. The attorney general’s guidelines are clear.

“What we want to do is make sure the person who overdoses gets help. In fact, sometimes we’ll even offer referrals for help. This is happening way too much and people need to know helping is more important than anything else.”

Now this doesn’t mean you’ll be able, if you possess, let’s say heroin, to leave with your drugs if someone ODs. Police will confiscate any and all contraband. And, if it appears someone is a distributor, said person won’t be immune to arrest and/or prosecution.

But the bottom line is — if Ally’s friends had called for help sooner, not only might she still be alive — those who were with her would not have been arrested.

For King — and police everywhere — it’s still about making the call.

“We can’t guarantee a life will be saved if people do make the call, but making the call is better than not making it,” King said.

Not sure more truer words have been spoken.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.