Bridget Loder came to court seeking justice and closure.
Nearly four years ago, her son’s body was found by train tracks along Lakefront Boulevard on the edge of downtown. An autopsy revealed that Kyle Loder died of a methamphetamine overdose three days shy of his 29th birthday.
In the courtroom on the afternoon of April 7, Jason Yelder, the man who admitted to giving Kyle Loder the drugs that killed him, was about to be sentenced to prison. Yelder, now 39, pleaded guilty last year to possession with intent to distribute 5 grams or more of meth. While he was not charged directly with Loder’s death, the conviction takes into account that a person died as the result of taking the drug that was provided by the defendant.
But Bridget Loder wanted something more. She wanted Yelder to know what he took away from her when he gave her son the drugs that would kill him. She also wanted the world to know how the health care system and the criminal justice system failed to help her son.
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She asked a reporter to witness the sentencing “because people need to know,” she said. “People really need to know what the system is like. The more people I can engage, the more information. I think that we need to take mental health more seriously. And yes, I think there needs to be more immediate opportunities for people to get help when they need it. That’s really key. If they’re ready to go rehab today at 10 am they may not be at 2 pm”
Deaths by overdoses have skyrocketed over the last few years. Last year more than 100,000 people died of a drug overdose in the US Lawmakers and law enforcement officials increasingly focus on people like Yelder who provide the drugs. Last year, New York lawmakers were lobbied to pass a “Death by Dealer” law that would allow prosecutors statewide to charge dealers who sell fatal batches of narcotics with homicide. A judge in a recent Western New York case ordered a drug dealer to pay for the funeral of a person whose death he helped cause.
While most of the deaths are attributed to opioids, Kyle Loder’s death is a reminder of how dangerous other illicitly made drugs can be. Kyle battled addiction to many drugs, always seeking out the next more powerful high, his mother said. She thinks too much emphasis is put on one addictive substance over another.
“Why can’t it just be about substance abuse?” she said.
At the sentencing, Bridget Loder was joined by 12 other loved ones, including Kyle’s two grandmothers. All wore purple T-shirts printed with a black and white photo of Kyle. One aunt brought a folder full of old photos of happier days. Around Bridget’s neck was a necklace with a heart-shaped locket. Inside were some of Kyle’s ashes.
Bridget Loder wears a shirt remembering her son Kyle Loder along with a locket containing some of his ashes.
The family first gathered in the lobby of the Robert H. Jackson United States Courthouse. A woman quietly approached the crowd. “Are you Kyle’s family?” she asked. She approached Bridget Loder, said something to her, and then proceeded toward security.
She turned out to be Yelder’s mother. She told Bridget Loder she was “sorry” for her son’s role in what had happened, “sorry” for both their sons’ roles.
Bridget Loder was stunned and tears filled her eyes. She didn’t know what to think.
In the courtroom, Bridget Loder and her family sat on one side of the courtroom. Yelder’s loved ones, five people including his mother, sat on the other. Several others listened in through a remote audio connection.
After Assistant US Attorney Michael Adler and defense attorney Paul Dell presented their arguments, Bridget Loder stood to speak.
She detailed how treatments failed her son. How he was court-ordered to outpatient therapy three times a week but destined to fail because drug dealers would wait outside the parking lot to sell him drugs. How he was turned away from the hospital because his withdrawal symptoms weren’t severe enough. How their health insurance wouldn’t pay for in-patient treatment until he had failed outpatient for two years. How when he said he was ready for help, he was put on a wait list for a bed. How when he was jailed, he was steered away from methadone and was given a shot of Vivitriol instead, his mother said.
Three weeks later, Yelder invited Kyle Loder and a friend to stay with him at a downtown hotel. That’s when Yelder admits he gave Loder some methamphetamine. Kyle Loder sent a text to a friend: “I had to go for a walk, I feel like I’m going to explode.” A few hours later, he was found dead by the train tracks.
Bridget Loder spoke in court about how she had always taught her children to never use the word “hate,” whether it be about peanut butter or another person.
But on that day in the courtroom, Loder said, she felt hatred.
“I truly hate you, Mr. Yelder,” she said. Yelder had been previously convicted on federal drug charges and was put on probation but failed to show up to his mandated appearance.
Giving her son a fatal dose of methamphetamine “is the exact same thing as pulling out an illegal gun and shooting him in the chest,” she said.
“I would hope Mr. Yelder does what he needs to do to turn himself around,” she said.
Yelder and his attorney were given a chance to speak, too.
Dell said that Yelder has shown intense remorse and that he attempted suicide while in jail awaiting sentencing.
Bridget Loder gathers with family and friends at the US District Courthouse for the sentencing of Jason Yelder who was found guilty on drug charges, Thursday, April 7, 2022.
“He’s very much aware of what he helped cause and he’s sorry,” Dell said.
Yelder apologizes repeatedly. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.”
He said Loder was a friend and he never intended to hurt him.
“I hate myself,” Yelder said. “I hate myself.”
Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo then spoke. “This case is a tragedy no matter how you look at it,” he said.
One young man was dead and another’s life has been destroyed, leaving two heartbroken families.
“It’s these damn drugs,” Vilardo said.
Vilardo sentenced Loder to 11 years and three months in federal prison, followed by eight years of supervised release.
The judge said he understood Bridget Loder’s rage, but also believed she didn’t really hate him. He pointed out how Bridget Loder wished Yelder would spend his time in prison wisely and make something of himself.
Vilardo told Yelder to turn his self-hatred into “something positive.”
“As a tribute to your family, do something to stop this stuff,” Vilardo said.
The day after the sentencing, Bridget Loder and some of her loved ones went to the spot where her son’s body was found. They planted about 40 purple iris bulbs.
“I want people to remember that something happened there. That is where a life ended,” she said.
A couple of weeks after the sentencing, she reflected on how the case ended.
She’s not satisfied. She appreciated that the judge apologized for the system failing her son but 11 years doesn’t seem like enough, she said.
“My other son says ’11 years is a long time,’ ” she said. “But my son is dead. That’s a lot more time. … My son, Kyle, is gone forever.”
But she also saw that Yelder was suffering and said she doesn’t hate him so much as hate what he did.
“The part that he played – I think it’s going to take him some time get through that,” she said. “I hope that can happen.”
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