| Jason Lang
It wasn't really an overdose that killed Jason Lang, said his father Rick, but Jason's five-year battle with the dragon of drug addiction came to an end about 6:30 p.m., Saturday, when the 33-year-old local businessman stuck a needle in his arm and shot who knows what into his bloodstream.
Until State Police investigators receive lab results or the Medical Examiner produces an autopsy report, we won't know what substance Jason Lang injected in the final minutes of his life.
"Whoever gave that to Jason, whoever sold that to Jason, murdered him," Rick Lang said. "They plain out murdered him. I want that in the paper. They killed my son."
Rick and Jason both returned to their house in Batavia about 6 p.m., Saturday, Rick said. They grabbed the mail, and each took their portion and Jason said he was going downstairs and would be right back up. Rick said he sorted through his mail, opened a couple of bills, and then a friend stopped by and they chatted for a few minutes, then Rick started cooking supper.
He heard what sounded like the toilet flushing a few times, or the water going off and on, so he called down to Jason, and there was no answer. He went down the stairs a bit, called again, no answer. He went down into the bathroom and Jason was slumped over the bathroom vanity.
"He already looked a little bit, not the right color," Rick said. "I grabbed him and I shook him. He was still warm. I said, 'Jason Jason,' and I tried to wake him. He didn't respond. So I cradled him under his arms and lowered to the floor. I could see it in his eyes. They were blank looking. I said, 'my God, Jason, you're gone.' You know that's what I thought right away, 'you're gone. Buddy, what did you do?' "
Rick stood up and called 9-1-1.
"I see a syringe laying in the sink with the cap more than three-fourths full," Rick said. "It was like maybe a smidgen (used). Even the investigator said, 'My God, he didn't get hardly anything into him.'"
For years, Jason Lang ran a successful cab company in Batavia, Batavia Cab. He thought he was doing pretty good for himself, so he decided to expand his business interests, so he opened a smoke shop and tattoo parlor, the Laughing Buddha, on Ellicott Street.
This was right about the time synthetic marijuana and another class of synthetic drugs, often known as bath salts, were hitting the market. The drugs fell into a legal gray area, where they weren't controlled substances, but might be considered analogs to hard drugs including methamphetamine and cocaine.
Seeing a business opportunity, Lang started selling the compounds in his shop.
At that time, he said in an interview last August, he had never used hard drugs.
After the State Police raided his store, he said, the store closed down and he lost $200,000 in inventory. He said he became depressed and bath salts, such as Amped, were easy to get at a new store that opened at 400 Ellicott St., the 420 Emporium.
In the spring and summer of 2012, synthetic drugs were a big story in Batavia. There were multiple reports of users engaging in bizarre behavior while high on bath salts. Jason was one of the users making the news, not just in Batavia, but throughout the region. His paranoia led to false reports of gunshots at a local hotel, of confrontations with law enforcement, and tales he told to local reporters of government conspiracies against him.
The mess her son was in drove Nicole Lang and her supporters to stage protests outside the 420 Emporium, which was part of a Rochester chain that was eventually raided and shut down by federal authorities.
Those law enforcement actions seem to have come too late for Jason Lang.
He switched to heroin.
To support his habit, he started shoplifting. He hit big chain stores. When he reached the point where he had been banned from all the stores in Genesee County, he branched out to Erie County, Orleans County, and Ontario County, in an effort to never get charged with anything more than a petit larceny.
It wasn't long though before he had run out of stores to hit in the neighboring counties, and desperate, he returned to Ontario County.
Rick said local authorities have told him the District Attorney and judges there are particularly tough on petty criminals, that they often sentence people to 90 days in jail for petit larceny.
Jason returned to stores where he was previously banned, stole merchandise, and was charged with felony burglaries. He was sentenced to more than three years in prison.
That's just wrong, Rick said. He pointed to court clerks who stole more than $100,000; attorneys who embezzled more than $75,000; an official in Le Roy who took tens of thousands of dollars from his organization.
They all got off with probation, what Rick considers a "slap on the wrist."
Yet, Jason, whom Rick said never got away with more than $5,000 aggregate in all his thefts, was given a multiyear prison term.
The justice system, he said, isn't treating drug addiction for what it is, a disease, but it's the users -- not the dealers, he said, not the embezzlers -- who are getting the harshest sentences.
"These people (the embezzlers) are not sick," Rick said. "These people are mentally alert, have no illness and they know exactly what they're doing. You know, it's greed. The justice system is wrong in the way they handle these cases."
While Rick is unhappy with how a local parole officer handled his son's case, contributing, he thinks, to the difficulty of Jason's recovery, he has nothing but praise for the State Police and Sheriff's Office.
Both troopers and deputies have been to the Lang household a couple of times in recent months. The first time, after Jason overdosed on, probably, cocaine, and then again a few weeks ago when he was hallucinating on bath salts.
The troopers and deputies helped save Jason's life those times, and on Saturday, it was a trooper who took over CPR from Rick once he arrived on scene.
"The state troopers, they are very gentleman-like, very professional, and the deputies, too," Rick said. "Very professional."
Rick Lang knows his son was an addict and he struggled with his addiction. Both father and son knew how dangerous that was.
On Father's Day, Jason wrote in his diary, "A great Father's Day. Feeling very blessed. Life has thrown me a lot of curve balls and I've survived through many storms. I recently had another drug overdose. I shouldn't be alive. But somehow I am still here."
Rick doesn't want people to remember his son as the drug addict. He wants Jason to be remembered as a small businessman who cared about his community and cared about people.
"He had a heart of gold," Rick said. "He loved all types of people. He loved law enforcement. He respected law enforcement. He respected people that were down and out and he'd run to help them. Like I said before, when he had Batavia Cab, many times some of his employees were low-income people, didn't have anything, and he'd buy the Christmas gifts and give them to the parents as a gift to each other for Christmas. He was that kind of guy."
In prison, Jason came to the aid of a young black prisoner who was being bullied by a white supremacist gang member.
"He (the gang member) told him to get on his knees and that's when Jason stepped in and said, 'hey, knock it off,'" Rick said. "'Leave him alone. You know he's scared to death and that he's only a kid.'"
The white supremacist accused Jason of not sufficiently loving his own race, of being an (expletive deleted) lover. Jason said he didn't care about race, but mostly he didn't believe in picking on people and hurting them.
When the prisoners were back in line to head back to their cells, the gang member stabbed Jason in the leg with a pencil, breaking it off in his leg. There was a tussle, and the gang member ended up getting hauled off by the guards.
Jason Lang will receive a Mass of Christian burial at Resurrection Parish, 18 Ellicott St., Batavia, at 9:30 a.m., Friday. Calling Hours are Thursday (full obituary).
His family announced on Facebook today that Grab-A-Cab, the new cab company Jason started after he was released from prison, is being shut down.
Rick is sure Jason didn't want to die. His addiction scared him. He had recently started attending church and was moving toward a deeper spiritual bond with Jesus, Rick said. He said he told Jason if he wanted to save himself from his addiction, he needed to turn to Jesus. He's convinced Jason was headed in that direction. He said that if Jason had known what was in that needle, whatever it was, he never would have shot up knowing it would kill him.
Jason loved his family, Rick said. He loved his son, Lathan. Rick, Jason, and Lathan had been enjoying the spring and summer together fishing.
"He was just a damn good guy," Rick said. "You know, the addiction, that didn't make him a bad guy. He was a very good father. He loved his kid and his kid loved him."
Rick said he was mainly willing to talk about his son's death because he hopes maybe it will save some other parent the heartbreak he's been through. Something has got to be done about the drug epidemic hitting hard both in Genesee County and nationally, he said, but maybe if people know the story of people like Jason, it will help.
It was only near the end of our conversation that Rick Lang started to tear up.
"I hope to get my life back trying to find happiness," Rick said. "It's hard to find happiness when you lose someone that close to your heart. I'm proud of my son. I want to put that in the paper. I'm proud of him. He was one of my best friends. Ever. Now I don't have him. So, I hope. I hope."
Below, a poem Jason Lang wrote about heroin and a copy of his Father's Day diary entry.