November 21, 2018
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‘He wanted to be saved’: A prodigy lobsterman’s battle with addiction

Submitted photo courtesy of Port
Submitted photo courtesy of Port
Josiah Beringer, 31, who grew up in New Hampshire and recently moved his lobster boat to Kittery, died after a long battle with drug addiction on July 10.

The F/V Patricia Lynn II was Josiah Beringer’s refuge. It was also his darkness.

He’d once broken a bottle of champagne over its bow in celebration of the first time he took it out to sea. The red and white lobster boat, named after his late mother, bears a skull and crossed swords on its hull.

The Patricia Lynn now sits inside a cold warehouse at the state pier in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, propped in the air above the concrete floor. A haunting autumn wind sweeps in, circling the boat like a cloak, a spirit.

Josiah’s lobster traps, once strewn across the seabed in Hampton Harbor, are stacked outside like a ghost yard. His ropes, buoys and other gear scattered among them. “J. Beringer” is carved into the Styrofoam of one hand-painted black-and-red buoy.

Aboard the Patricia Lynn on July 10, while docked at Badger’s Island in Kittery, Josiah overdosed twice within the same day, the second time killing him. He lay on the deck for 10 hours before he was found. He was 31.

“He had it all, I’ll tell you that,” said his sister Hannah Beringer. “He definitely did.”

Josiah deeply loved his family, but he loved fishing more. He found his solace at sea, and then his death. In three weeks, the auction process for the Patricia Lynn will begin. With Josiah leaving behind more than $30,000 in loans, the Pease Development Authority Division of Ports and Harbors had no other option but to file paperwork in federal admiralty court to procedurally seize the boat and its gear.

The Patricia Lynn II was Josiah’s third boat, and the second named after his mother, who died in 1992. The Beringer siblings also lost their father, who had raised all five of them, in 2016. Hannah said Josiah’s heart broke when their dad died, and from there, he began his steep decline.

Out to sea

Josiah began lobstering when he was 14. By his late teens, he’d already begun running his business, Beringer Lobster Co., out of the family house just a stone’s throw from Hampton Beach.

Hannah said Josiah struggled in middle school. Things turned a corner for him when local lobsterman Bobby Nudd took him under his wing. They started fishing together in Hampton, New Hampshire, waters, where Josiah got his first taste of the laborious career he’d end up pursuing. It would become his entire life.

Geno Marconi, director of New Hampshire Ports and Harbors, said Josiah was the youngest fisherman they’d ever issued a loan to. The Pease Development Authority’s revolving loan program, designed to assist area fishermen with low-interest loans, began in 1995.

Josiah graduated from Winnacunnet High School in 2006 and went full time into the lobster business. For many years, his boat was based out of Hampton, but within the last year, he had moved to a marina at Badger’s Island in Kittery.

Hannah estimated at the time of his death, Josiah had 500 traps in Seacoast waters. He was incredibly successful, she said, which brought him both friends and enemies. Sometimes Josiah would be the earliest person out and the last person in, to prove himself. Hannah snickered that he “pissed a lot of people off.”

“He was so obsessed with fishing,” said Hannah, 27. “He was crazy, a hard worker, so much like my dad.”

Hannah described Josiah as goofy, dedicated and caring; someone who would do just about anything for anyone. When they were children, and dad was working, Josiah took care of his siblings. He invested money in the family home.

“I want people to know just how good of a person he actually was, he still was when he was using,” she said. “He would light up a room. He was the favorite, for sure. The favorite cousin, the favorite uncle, sibling, son.”

Being on the water, Hannah said, was Josiah’s passion in life.

‘He wanted to be saved’

In 2011, Josiah suffered serious injuries in an ATV crash that almost took his life. He was flown to a Boston hospital, where he began a long recovery process. His addiction, Hannah said, started with the drugs he was prescribed there.

With his fishing success, Josiah was able to feed and afford his painkiller habit for years. From there, it escalated to crack, then heroin. Sometimes, it was both at once.

“He really did try. He said multiple times he didn’t want to live like this,” Hannah said. “He was just so heartbroken after my dad died. He wasn’t the same person at all.” Hannah said Josiah and their father had lived together, and frequently enjoyed time on the Patricia Lynn.

Hannah said her family felt as though the police failed them. Josiah was caught with drugs several times, she said, but nothing was done to direct him to services or get him help. When he finally went to rehab for the first time in March in Manchester, after two weeks, he was asked to leave because he didn’t have health insurance.

On his own, Josiah succeeded in staying sober for a few months afterward.

“But June came along, he relapsed and within a couple weeks, he had passed away,” Hannah said.

Over the course of 24 hours on July 10, Josiah was revived by Narcan after a first overdose on his boat and taken to a Maine hospital. Shortly thereafter, he was released and took a taxi back to the Patricia Lynn.

A few hours later, he would overdose a second time, and it would prove fatal.

His obituary was painfully and beautifully honest, depicting a young man who during his lifetime had captured the most stunning sunrises and sunsets at sea, and, despite his addiction, never lost his smile, sense of humor or desire for sobriety.

“These are good people, hardworking human beings that get themselves into either a bad situation or they’ve been injured before, and been over-prescribed and it got too expensive,” Hannah said. “It doesn’t discriminate. I say all the time when I go into a room there could be someone struggling here. There could be someone here who could sell me a bag of heroin.”

Hannah said her brother had become dependent on something “that made him feel nothing.”

“He wanted to be saved,” she said. After his death, Hannah listened to a voicemail on someone else’s phone that Josiah had left from the hospital on his last day. He didn’t need help, he said, he needed to be saved.

The aftermath

Nine lobstermen volunteered to retrieve Josiah’s traps from the ocean, which are now stacked along the port authority pier. They were able to find just over 200 of them.

It’s been troubled waters for the lobster and fishing industry, which is plagued by the opioid scourge. Physical pain from hard labor, depression and grueling hours, often spent alone on the water, are some of the reasons workers in the fishing industry turn to heroin, Hannah said. The insular nature of the community doesn’t help, either.

“It got to the point where every single one of the deck hands Josiah was hiring were drug addicts, so they would use together,” she said. And being in a cash-lucrative business meant almost instant access to drugs when they wanted them.

Before Josiah’s passing, the Patricia Lynn had already been acquainted with death. A few months earlier, Josiah woke up from a nap while at sea to discover one of his deck hands dead of an overdose. He called 911.

It was a cycle. Each day, Hannah said, they would wake up and do the same thing, over and over again.

“Our family was completely heartbroken,” she said. “We expected it to happen one day, if he didn’t get clean. I just didn’t see it coming this soon.”

Their oldest sibling, Amanda, had previously struggled with heroin addiction for 10 years. Now that she is six years sober, everyone thought Amanda’s story would help Josiah get back on his feet.

“She made it out,” Hannah said of her sister. But Josiah did not.

“I wish that I could give him a big hug and tell him I loved him every single day,” Hannah said. “I think he knew that. I would want him to know that we needed him, we still need him.”

While visiting the Patricia Lynn earlier this week, Hannah recalled “the countless conversations” she and Josiah had about getting him help. She laughed that he wanted to go to a luxurious rehab facility in Florida, the Sunshine State.

“I have so much regret that I wish I could have helped him,” she said.

Hannah and her siblings discussed if they wanted to keep the boat. When it goes up for auction, anyone has the opportunity to purchase it, family included.

“We didn’t want to keep something that basically killed him,” Hannah said. “To us, the fishing in the end is what killed him, because we couldn’t get him to leave it. All he wanted to do was fish. We wanted to say our goodbyes to the boat. You have to learn to let go of things. You hold onto memories and pictures.”

Josiah wanted a second chance, Hannah said, but couldn’t get it. She believes the path to addiction services isn’t as accessible as it should be. New Hampshire needs more. Josiah needed more.

“He really never stopped fighting,” she said. “I think at the end, though, I truly believe he really wanted to be with my dad and my mom.”

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