Jessica Tucker’s inability to shake her meth habit ultimately led to the 28-year-old’s death.
Alane Tucker, pauses as she talks about how her daughter Jessica died at 28 in Pittsburgh, Pa. during an interview at her home in East Sparta
Her parents say they turned their back on her when drugs were more important to her than anything else. Over the years, she had made their lives a living hell.
Additionally, they needed to protect Jessica’s little girl, who was with them. So who could blame them for turning a blind eye? They blame themselves.
Jessica’s mother, Alane Tucker, recently told me that she and her husband, Randy, should have made sure she knew they were there for her.
“We made a grave error. Yes, we struggled for years. Yes, we did everything that we thought we could. Yes, at the time it seemed right — but death changes everything,” she said, mincing no words.
On Tuesday, Alane will be speaking at the Meth Lab Community Forum in Akron. The message: Be a parent, not your kid’s friend.
Jessica was a brilliant child. At 14½, she graduated from high school. At 15, she was enrolled at the University of Akron. When she applied for jobs, employers hired her, even though the positions were more appropriate for someone much older. She was breezing through life.
“She had the world wrapped around her little finger,” explained Alane, who confessed that because she was an executive for a large international company, she tried to be her daughter’s pal to compensate for the time she spent working.
But when Alane suspected her teenage daughter was abusing drugs, she resigned her position to keep a closer eye on her. Still, in her early 20s, Jessica discovered methamphetamine.
The man who was her daughter’s meth cook, Alane explained, drove Jessica from Akron to a vacant apartment in Pennsylvania where he set up a very primitive meth lab. In February 2010, he abandoned her there, taking her car, phone and clothes. During one of those history-breaking snowstorms, Jessica headed outdoors.
“She was found wandering around Pennsylvania in her pink pajamas trying to find someone to let her use a phone. She went into a jewelry store and asked to use their phone,” the mother explained.
Overhearing Jessica’s conversation, the owner suspected the young woman was in some kind of trouble and phoned the police.
Officers followed Jessica back to the vacant apartment, where they found the lab. As she was being arrested, the malnourished Jessica fell down some stairs and was taken to the hospital. There, they discovered that the young woman had, over some period of time, sustained beatings that caused broken bones to her face and ribs, and even a stab wound.
So why hadn’t she left?
“You don’t leave your cook when you’re hooked on meth,” offered Alane. “And our door was locked … she had nowhere to go. I’m not sure she would have come, but we still needed her to know that the door was open.”
When the hospital released her, a police officer who sympathized with Jessica decided not to handcuff her. And as they walked toward the cruiser, Jessica ran away, across the parking lot.
Looking over a barrier and back again at the officer who was in pursuit, she slipped over the wall. Though the area appeared as if it had a gradual decline, it was much steeper, and Jessica fell 35 feet to the ground. Four hours later, she took her last breath.
While the meth wasn’t the direct cause of death, Alane said the events that Jessica’s cook set in motion led to it.
The 39-year-old man whom Alane identified as Jessica’s cook did not face charges in the young woman’s death. Still, he is serving a 12-year sentence for the illegal manufacturing of drugs.
There’s a delicate balance between enabling a troubled soul and keeping communication open. And though I reminded Alane that she did what was right at the time, she flinched — explaining that she and Randy are tortured for having kept their distance from Jessica, whose daughter, Claire, is now 10.
“You have to almost make yourself numb because you can’t bear the torment. And so you have to close it off and shut it out because the torment never leaves,” she said. “I have a … little girl to raise. When you are given a different chance, you do things differently. This one is much more sheltered. This one will not have the freedoms that Jessica did. This one is not given the things that Jessica was given.”
Again, the message: Don’t be your child’s buddy.
“I will never be Claire’s friend,” promised Alane. “I will always be Grandma who will always, always, be there guiding her.”