OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Some parents and teens are raising allegations of serious incidents that they claim happened at one of the few residential substance abuse programs for teenagers in the Bay Area.
It’s every parent’s nightmare: Finding out that your child is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Even worse is discovering the treatment center that was supposed to help may have done more harm than good.
“When she got out, she was worse,” a Fremont mother told KPIX 5. She was talking about the day she sent her 16-year-old to an East Bay treatment center called Thunder Road to get help for alcohol addiction. Right from the start, she sa there were issues.
“I began to suspect there were things that were not right,” she remembered.
On one of her early visits, she noticed kids at the Oakland facility coming and going seemingly as they pleased. Her daughter — we’ll call her Mary — says counselors let residents run free.
“The kids told me you can get away with a lot of things here,” said Mary.
Mary says that led to problems from day one, with one male resident in particular.
“He was acting all possessive. He would get mad at things I wouldn’t do, like hug him or talk to him,” she explained.
She said she complained to staff, but it just got worse.
“He would pick me up and just throw me on the couch, just like out of nowhere. I would be so confused,” said Mary.
One day. Mary left the facility with a group of kids, including a former resident we’ll call Jay.
“There were multiple times when I would leave with other kids, go out look around for cigarettes on the ground,” he said.
This time, the teens were on a quest for alcohol.
“After we finished the first bottle, we went ahead and got another one. Then we went back to the facility,” remembered Mary.
That’s when Mary says the male who had been harassing her started getting angry again. Jay claims he witnessed the boy assaulting her in a stairwell.
“I look down the steps and I see the other kid on top of her,” said Jay.
Hospital records show Mary was admitted due to acute alcohol intoxication with bruises on her neck. Her mother was outraged.
“How is it possible that I put her in a place that is supposed to be safe and this happened?” she asked.
Mary’s experience at Thunder Road is not isolated. KPIX 5 has spoken to five Bay Area families who all claimed the facility offered little to no therapy services for their children and didn’t monitor whether they were using drugs and alcohol.
The investigation led KPIX 5 to several former employees who confirmed those accusations.
“It was chaotic. Very chaotic,” said Kay Priester, a clinical counselor who was hired to work at Thunder Road earlier this year. “I noticed that teens were allowed to push the exit doors open and go out and smoke cigarettes. It was such a common thing to do, being able to walk out and go do drugs and bring drugs back in.”
Priester said the residents were also always hungry.
“The teens would get up and say, ‘What are we eating? There’s nothing down there for us to eat. There’s molded food. There’s old food.’ These are teens coming from traumatic experiences, chronic homelessness. Their anxiety was building from the time that they woke up,” said Priester.
According to state inspection records, Thunder Road has four “Type A” citations, which are the most serious. The facility has six additional “Type B” citations. Among the substantiated findings, state inspectors noted that Thunder Road, “Failed to meet food service requirements, failed to prevent drugs from being brought into the facility and failed to adequately supervise minors.”
Priestly filed one of those complaints. Shortly after she filed the complaint, she was fired.
“When a parent relinquishes their child to your care and trusts that you are going to support their child, and you don’t do that, and you are able to continue to operate…it’s beyond unethical. It’s just not right,” said Priester.
KPIX 5 wanted to talk to Jamie Almanza, the CEO of Bay Area Community Services, the non-profit that runs Thunder Road. She turned down a request for an interview.
In a statement, the company said, “Thunder Road “provides a structured program…building trust through appropriate behavior and open communications, and treating oneself and others with respect.” The statement also claimed “There is not a ‘free-for-all’ environment” at the facility. It would not comment on specific cases for privacy reasons.
But Mary’s mother wants everyone to know about the harm that happened to her daughter at Thunder Road so that it won’t happen to anyone else.
“That place is not safe for any patient, any child, any mother. I believe they should shut it down,” she said.