Losing The Fight

Local mom tells story of son killed by fentanyl

March 8, 2023

Frisco resident Tina Pinotti, balances her full time job, taking care of her granddaughter, and working as a board member for Winning the Fight, an organization that helps families fight the disease of addiction.

“A lot of people think ‘not my family’, but this can happen to anybody,” Tina said.

She works with families who have lost loved ones, but she still grieves the death of her own. 

“Losing my son has highlighted grief and pain,” Tina said. “So it tends to hit me even when I don’t know the people.”

Her son, Ryan Pearson died at 29 years old from a fentanyl overdose.

As Tina celebrates her oldest daughter’s 30th birthday, her daughter’s engagement and the birth of her first grandchild, it reminds her that Ryan will never reach those milestones.

The loss of her firstborn will stay with her forever. She only wanted the best for him. 

“He was my buddy,” she said. “He was everything to me.”

Early Life

Tina says her son was the happiest, sweetest baby she could’ve asked for. (Submitted by Tina Pinotti)

Ryan grew up in El Segundo, California with his three sisters and mother, Tina.                                           

“He was probably one of the easiest babies ever on the face of the Earth,” Tina said. “He was happy and just very smiley, and that followed him through most of his life.”

Ryan was an active kid with varied interests. He tried out different sports, but fell in love with art and photography. He took pictures of everything, but animals and nature were his favorite subjects. No matter what he was doing, he cared for the people around him.

He faced multiple losses in his youth. His dad committed suicide when he was only 6 years old and his best friend died in his sleep when they were in middle school.

“He empathized fully with people and befriended people that were hurting, so he took on a lot himself as well,” Tina said. “Those are the things that kind of greatly affected him as an individual. But also he had a sweet, kind heart.”

Tina remembers when Ryan was 13, he ran into their apartment one day, worried from the sound of sirens. He grabbed his baseball bat and hunkered down with his mother. Until his sister ran inside, excited that Santa was coming down the street on a fire truck giving candy to the neighborhood kids.

“He would’ve protected us with his life I’m sure,” Tina laughed.

Ryan’s Addiction

Tina was cleaning Ryan’s room one day when he was about 17. She found weed and a pipe and her mind instantly thought of his father, an addict who abused marijauna and spent years addicted to heroin. 

“They say that it’s not addictive, but I don’t agree with that,” Tina said. “When I found the pot and the pipe, I was really upset and I was worried.”

Ryan didn’t see a problem with marijuana, but Tina stood her ground—no drugs in her home. During this period of tension with his mom, Ryan dropped out of high school and moved in with his grandmother in Ramona, California for a short time

“That’s when things kind of spiraled down and got worse,” Tina said. 

With a trust fund left for him by his father, Ryan fell into a lifestyle of destructive extravagance. He didn’t have a steady home, but he had an expensive car that he crashed countless times. He would bounce in and out of rehabs and sober living homes, but whenever he left, heroin was always waiting. 

Despite his growing addiction, he always stayed in contact with his family.

He moved back in with his mother and promised he would stop using. But he didn’t. With younger sisters in the house, he still locked himself in the bathroom and shot up. She kicked him out. She wouldn’t put her family in danger.

“It was dangerous for everybody. So that was probably the hardest thing–to turn him away.”

In 2013, Ryan finally got sober at the age of 24. He worked with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to start a new life.

“We’re very fortunate we had those five years,” Tina said.

Ryan’s Last Day

On the day Ryan died, his anxiety was worsening. His whole family was in California for Christmas while he was alone in Fairview, Texas. When he ran out of his prescribed Xanax, he got a number from a friend for more. 

He went to a dealer named Ben Westin, who was involved in a Dallas drug ring, selling counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl.

I could hear him struggling to breathe in the background”

— Michael Hart, childhood friend

Ryan picked up some Xanax and a single pill of fentanyl laced oxycodone.

Soon after Ryan’s childhood friend, Michael Hart got on a gaming call, the others in the call told him that Ryan had relapsed and snorted an oxycodone. 

“I could hear him struggling to breathe in the background,” Michael said.

As Ryan choked on his own breath, Michael screamed over the microphone. Michael lived in California while Ryan was in Texas, so he began frantically calling anyone he could to get to Ryan’s apartment.

He finally reached Ryan’s girlfriend. When she got to Ryan’s house after midnight, he wouldn’t wake up. Paramedics and police arrived at 12:42 a.m.

Tina was in California at the time staying with her brother when she got a call from Ryan’s girlfriend telling her that something happened to Ryan and that he was in the hospital. Tina called, waiting on hold for what felt like an eternity.

“The doctor got on the line and he’s going through everything that they did, and I was actually thinking that he would say he’s in serious condition,” Tina said. “He was telling me all of the steps that were taken and everything that was done to him. It just seemed like it went on forever. But then he said ‘I couldn’t get him back.’”

Tina stood outside of her brother’s house by her car as she wept, feeling broken and devastated.

“I was in shock,” Tina said. “Then I had to tell his sisters and my parents and the rest of his family and friends what had happened. I think no one ever expected that.”

Ryan overdosed on fentanyl and died on Dec. 28, 2018.

The Trials

Dallas Police Detective David Roach took down a citywide drug ring in response to Ryan’s death. When the hearings began for the dealers, Tina thought she’d find evil-hearted, malicious individuals. What she saw were other grieving families broken by the horrors of drugs.

“Nobody wants to tear apart a family,” Roach said. “You do feel for them, because they’re not going to see their son on Christmas morning. But on the other hand, you feel that sense of justice, because Tina doesn’t get to see Ryan at any Christmas anymore.”

Tina stood in the courtroom on Sep. 18, 2021, preparing to speak to Ben Westin, the man convicted of her son’s death. She shared with Westin and the court her immense anger.

I channeled that rage into finding out who you were…” Tina stated. “It became an obsession to find out more about the individual who had sold the pill that killed my precious boy.

Tina found his previous drug arrests, which only frustrated her more. Then she saw that Westin’s father passed away when he was young, just like Ryan. She found that he was a triplet, raised by a single mother.

My anger turned to grief and pain for you and your family — another family destroyed by drugs,” Tina stated.

She said her heart broke for Westin, knowing that he only saw Ryan as a transaction, and not the beautiful person he was. Under different circumstances, she could’ve seen them as friends. In fact, Tina didn’t hate Ben Westin, she prayed for him. 

“My prayer for you is that you will live with a part of Ryan in your heart—that you will do everything possible not to go back to a life where drugs dictate every path you take until you walk off that final cliff. No matter how difficult life gets, drugs won’t help – they only destroy. Do something with your life — choose the hope of a beautiful and blessed life…it’s too late for my Ryan – it’s not too late for you.”

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