Belfast Telegraph

Drugs could kill a generation, warns Belfast dad of accidental overdose victim

Karl Wilgar
Karl Wilgar
Karl with his father Michael and step-mum Carissa on holiday
Karl with his brother George
Karl and dad Michael
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

The heartbroken father of a 27-year-old man who died after an accidental overdose has warned that drugs are the scourge of a generation.

Karl Wilgar, from Belfast, was pronounced dead at the Ulster Hospital in the early hours of May 26 after being poisoned by a cocktail of Xanax and alcohol.

His distraught dad Michael heard the news he had "always been dreading" when police officers knocked on the front door of his Co Down home in the middle of the night.

Speaking ahead of his eldest son's funeral tomorrow, the self-employed builder said he would never get over Karl's death.

"You don't get your head round something like this," Mr Wilgar added. "You don't get over it. You just have to hope you can learn to live with it."

Describing his reaction to being told Karl was dead, the 48-year-old father-of-three said: "A noise came out of me... a noise that only a parent losing a child can make.

"It's like the reaper has just come to your door and stabbed you right through the heart and it just hangs there. It's just unreal.

"Then the guilt sets in. What could I have done? I should have went to get him. I should have found him."

Mr Wilgar said that after he discovered his son was dabbling in 'soft' drugs such as cannabis when he was 15, he began to worry his "addictive personality" would prove problematic down the line.

"My biggest worry was him getting hold of something he couldn't handle. I was concerned that if he took heroin, he would get hooked. I warned him to stay away from drugs," he said.

"I once told him he would end up killing himself and Karl said, 'Dad, I would never do that to you'. He didn't mean to take his own life. I know he didn't.

"There's a massive drugs epidemic in Belfast and it's spreading. If we are not careful, drugs could wipe out an entire generation of young people. It's a huge worry."

The Bangor businessman, who is divorced from Karl's hairdresser mother Andrea McCormick (47), said his son's death was particularly heart-wrenching because his family believed "he'd sorted himself out".

"Karl went through a lot of tragedies when he was younger," he said. "His wee friend Michael died from cancer when they were both seven. A few years later, his grandfather Drew passed away and then so did my mother Carol, his granny, who had half reared him.

"He went off the rails after going through so much grief, but he'd sorted himself and was doing well until a few years ago, when his best friend Bruno died, which was steroid-related. They were both 22 or 23."

Michael, who's married to computer analyst Carissa (42), with whom he has daughter Ruby (10) and son George (8), said Karl turned his life around once again three years ago after settling down with his girlfriend Samantha in north Belfast.

"I thought everything was fine again. I really thought the tide was turning," said Mr Wilgar.

"He was looking good, putting on weight. He'd got a new job at a petrol station which he was due to start. When I last saw him, he was in great form. I thought the danger period was over. It's only now, when I've been looking at what happened, that I've learned he had been taking Xanax for about three weeks.

"Very few people knew about Karl's addiction problem. Unfortunately, he hid it so well.

"But it was a constant battle - from he was 18 to 23, he went through bad spells." Referring to the reaction to Karl's tragic death on Facebook, Michael said he had been inundated with messages from parents who had been through a similar experience.

"It's unbelievable how many people have suffered and how many people have lost loved ones because of drugs," he said. "People don't talk about it when it happens to them. They want it hushed so they can forget about it.

"But the fight against drugs should be stepped up. Drugs are the scourge of society. Kids need to be saved from them, otherwise a lot more people will find themselves in the same situation as me."

It was with a heavy heart that he recalled his last conversation with Karl, who had been sacked from his call centre job in March, prior to his death.

"He never told me he'd lost his job. He said he left. I think that's one of the reasons he fell off the wagon again," said Mr Wilgar.

"In our last conversation, the Friday morning before he died, he was slurring his words and I told him he needed to get himself off that gear, but he said he'd just taken a sleeping pill and I believed him.

"When the police later came to the door and told me he was dead, I started to blame myself for what happened.

"I chastised myself for not getting into the car that night and going to look for him."

When he left school aged 16, Karl, who had been living with his mum, moved in with his dad in Bangor, staying until he was 18 and serving as an apprentice joiner in his business.

Mr Wilgar said that when he thinks about his "handsome" son, a former Ashfield Boys High School pupil, he can "hear his big laugh" and "see his wonderful smile".

"Everybody who knows Karl will remember that big laugh," he said. "He was so handsome and great at socialising with everyone. He was very loved and he was a great lad."

The funeral service will be held tomorrow at 11am at Garnerville Presbyterian Church, followed by interment in Redburn Cemetery at noon.

Mr Wilgar has created a JustGiving page to raise money for Addiction NI in memory of Karl.

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