Skippack man sent to prison for overdose death of Perkiomen man.
NORRISTOWN >> Her grief still palpable for the 20-year-old son she lost to a fatal fentanyl overdose last year, a Perkiomen woman tearfully accepted an apology from the man who sold her son the drug during an emotion-filled hearing.
“I really appreciate the apology. I know you didn’t mean for him to die. We don’t have ill will toward you,” Jennifer Service addressed Patrick Ryan Yahner during a poignant and dramatic moment in Montgomery County Court on Oct. 3 before Yahner was sentenced to 4 to 8 years in prison in connection with the April 2017 overdose death of Justin C. Service.
Moments earlier, Yahner, 20, of the 3800 block of Center Avenue, Skippack, expressed remorse and said his own drug addiction fueled his decision to sell fentanyl to Justin, who was a friend. Yahner was 19 at the time of the crime.
“I realize that my addiction was so horrible that it caused a lot of people a lot of hurt. I wish I’d never done it,” said Yahner, his voice quivering with emotion at times. “I never meant for this to happen. I’m really sorry. This is nothing short of a tragedy. If you don’t forgive me, I understand because I took away something you’ll never get back.”
When Yahner indicated he wants to live a sober life and one day speak to other young people about the dangers of drug use, Jennifer Service offered to go to speaking engagements with him.
“He was a good kid but he was addicted too, so I understand where you’re coming from,” Jennifer Service wept as she spoke directly to Yahner. “I just miss my son and I wish I could hug him and see him again.”
In June, Yahner pleaded guilty to a felony charge of drug delivery resulting in death in connection with the April 9, 2017, fatal overdose of Justin Service, a 2014 graduate of Perkiomen Valley High School. In fashioning the sentence, Judge Todd D. Eisenberg said he took into account Yahner’s remorse, his lack of a prior criminal record and his cooperation with investigators.
“I truly believe you are sorry for what you did. But somebody died in this case and they died as a result of your actions,” Eisenberg addressed Yahner as he imposed the prison sentence.
Yahner’s mother, Karen Dwyer, described her son as “a kind boy” and said that when he was in throes of his addiction “he wasn’t Patrick.” She expressed her sympathy and sadness to the Service family.
“If he knew that was going to kill him he wouldn’t have given it to him. I am truly sorry that we all have to go through this,” Dwyer testified.
Assistant District Attorney Tonya Lupinacci said the Service family didn’t come to court seeking retribution or the maximum sentence but sought justice and also remorse from Yahner.
“The family of Justin Service recognizes and believes that Patrick Yahner’s addiction fueled his actions. However, they also believe that he’s responsible for his actions and that justice needed to be served,” Lupinacci said.
Lupinacci said the Service family hopes that when Yahner is paroled that he keeps his promise to tell his story about his addiction and about the consequences of his actions of dealing a lethal dose of fentanyl to another person.
“Nobody wins in this case. But these cases are so important to the families of the victims. They know they’ll never see their son again. They know no amount of time that the judge can give the defendant will bring back their son,” Lupinacci said. “They received justice, they feel a message was sent to others that if you deal drugs in Montgomery County and someone dies as a result, you’ll be prosecuted and we will seek a lengthy prison sentence.”
Defense lawyer Brendan Campbell called the case “a real tragedy,” adding Yahner is extremely remorseful.
“This is a product of the opioid epidemic. This case is a real tragedy in the fact you had one person die and another who is going to be in jail a long time,” said Campbell, who stressed mitigating factors in the case. “Patrick Yahner was an addict. He isn’t the average drug dealer who sells fentanyl, whether it’s a gram or an ounce or a pound…my client was an addict dealing drugs to get his next fix.”
An investigation began about 11:10 a.m. April 9, 2017, when state police at Skippack responded to a Tudor Road home in Perkiomen for a reported drug overdose and found Justin Service dead in the basement of the residence. Court documents indicate Service was discovered unresponsive in the basement by a relative.
An autopsy determined Service died of fentanyl toxicity and the manner of death was ruled accidental.
Prosecutors said fentanyl is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.
During the investigation, detectives examined Service’s cellphone and determined Service had text message conversations with Yahner beginning at 9:09 p.m. April 8. During the conversations, Service asked Yahner, “U got f” to which Yahner replied, “we can get it in Skippack,” according to the criminal complaint filed by state police Trooper Barry Bertolet and county Detective Paul Bradbury.
Detectives who analyzed the “coded” text messages alleged Service was asking Yahner if he had fentanyl for sale and Service indicated he had $20 to purchase the drugs, according to court documents. Yahner allegedly initially told Service that he would try to get two bags for $20 but later texted Service that it cost him $40 to purchase fentanyl.
Court documents indicate that the pair met outside a store in Trappe where the drug delivery took place about 10:45 p.m. April 8. Service, according to court documents, sent another text message to Yahner at 11:13 p.m., telling Yahner he liked the controlled substances that were sold to him.
When Yahner was confronted by detectives about the text message conversations, he admitted he obtained four unmarked bags from his supplier which he gave to Service in exchange for $40 and he said Service gave him two of the bags, according to the criminal complaint.
“Yahner told investigators that he was the one that provided the fentanyl to Service that killed him,” Bertolet and Bradbury wrote in the arrest affidavit. “Yahner told investigators that he knew the meeting with Service occurred in April because it was the anniversary of another friend that overdosed and died the previous year.”
“I never meant for this to happen. I’m really sorry. This is nothing short of a tragedy. If you don’t forgive me, I understand because I took away something you’ll never get back.” — Patrick Ryan Yahner
Patrick Ryan Yahner, 20, of Skippack is escorted by sheriff’s deputy from Montgomery County courtroom where he was sentenced to 4 to 8 years in prison for April 2017 overdose death of Justin Service, 20, of Perkiomen.