MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Ronald and Carla Hiers, both in their 60s, had just overdosed after snorting heroin and were unaware of the crowd that had formed around them, some laughing and joking at their state. The group surrounded the couple as they were passed out on a sidewalk in the middle of the day, barely moving.
One man, Courtland Garner, broadcast a profane video of the pair live on Facebook while others took photos. The two were just blocks away from Memphis’ medical district, and one passer-by wondered out loud whether they were dead, even checking Ronald’s pulse.
They were not.
Now, nearly two months after the video went viral, Ronald Hiers has spoken out for the first time, exclusively to CNN. Both he and his wife survived that day after being revived by first responders using the drug Narcan, which can reverse opioid overdoses. Both were given scholarships by Turning Point to attend rehab in separate facilities.
Hiers quietly watched the video of what happened on October 3, the incident that he says he has no memory of, and cringes as he hears people laugh and joke as he is barely able to move. His wife is lying face-down on the concrete.
“I am a son. A husband. A brother. A grandfather. A father. I’m a human being,” he said. “That’s what so many people missed about it. Those were two human beings.”
A couple of weeks ago, Ronald finished treatment at a rehab center in Southaven, Mississippi — just across the state line from the site of his overdose — and will live in a supervised community living home to help him transition back to life outside of the center and stay clean. Carla has been getting treatment at a Turning Point facility in Massachusetts.
The video that saved them
The nine-minute Facebook Live video that was broadcast to the world, which Ronald has called the lowest point in his life, has had more than 3 million views on Garner’s Facebook page. But part of what drew in viewers is the fact that Garner is heard laughing at the pair.
Garner, who filmed the couple passed out, did not respond to attempts for an interview. But he addressed questions by online commenters who criticized him for not helping the couple and for laughing at them; he told one reporter that someone else had already called 911.
He told KFOR sister station WREG that he laughed because “they were doing children things. It was a spectacle. It made me laugh.” In a separate Facebook Live he posted on his profile page the day after the incident, he explained why he filmed the couple instead of trying to help them.
“I don’t deal with people on drugs like that. I don’t know what they’re capable of,” he said. “I know kids be on social media.”
Ronald Hiers was visibly upset as he heard Garner and others laugh at his expense but said he is not angry at the man.
“He did not put myself nor my wife in that position. We put ourselves there. Had it been his mother or father on that sidewalk, on their face, he would have certainly called 911 instead of filming a video to see how many hits he could get on it.”
How they got help
It was Ronald Hiers’ 34-year-old daughter who ultimately got the pair help. The mother of three, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she has had a strained relationship with her father, with minimal contact for more than a decade.
“As soon as I had my daughter at 21, I was like, ‘I’m done with you. I’m not going to expose her to everything I’ve been exposed to,’ ” she said. “I just completely put him out of my life.”
Days after the couple’s overdose, WREG put together a story about the video, and Ronald’s daughter saw it. It was her birthday, and the timing rocked her.
“I was like, ‘What are you trying to tell me, God? What am I supposed to do with this? I can’t help him. We’ve all tried. We’ve told him to get help. We’ve thrown money at him,’ ” she said. “I was supposed to see that video. I felt something in my heart that I hadn’t felt in years: compassion to help.”
His daughter called the number for Turning Point’s addiction help hotline at the end of WREG’s story and managed to persuade him to go to rehab for the first time in his life. The company allocated scholarship money for both Ronald and Carla to get help.
Carla Hiers is still completing her treatment in Massachusetts. In a statement sent by the facility, she said she has been addicted to opioids for 40 years and called the incident a “wakeup call.”
“I am very optimistic about my recovery, and feel like God has reached down and pulled me out of a very dangerous situation,” the statement read. “Since the video surfaced, I’ve learned that I can trust people, something I never did before. … I don’t feel hopeless, worthless and useless anymore.”