CATAWISSA - State Rep. Kurt Masser thought it was important that he be present for Thursday's hearing for one of the two men charged in connection with the heroin overdose of his niece, Erika Smith, who died Nov. 24 at Geisinger Medical Center.

"I wanted our family to have a presence here today for Erika," said Masser, of Elysburg. "She was a sweet, fun-loving, kind and giving person who unfortunately fell prey to bad actors recently.

"It makes me wonder what we have to do to save our kids," he added.

Bryant Anthony Leiby, 25, of Danville, waived his drug-related charges to Columbia County Court during a brief hearing before Magisterial District Judge Craig Long.

Masser, speaking after the hearing, said he and Smith, 34, of Elysburg, were "very close." She worked as a housekeeper at Masser's Wayside Inn in Weigh Scales and was also employed as a clerk at Turkey Hill, Elysburg.

"Our family has a hole ripped in it that will never be filled," he said. The legislator expressed confidence that justice will be served in connection with the ongoing investigation by Locust Township police into his niece's death.

"I have faith in the criminal justice system," he said.

Greets defendant's father

Masser shook hands and spoke briefly after the hearing with Leiby's father, Martin Leiby, of Danville, who expressed his sympathies to the legislator.

The defendant also greeted Masser in the courtroom, turning around and saying "Hi, Mr. Masser." Masser didn't say anything in response.

Tragedy has befallen Masser's family in the past. His nieces, Toni Wehry, 21, and Amanda Wehry, 17, and nephew Tyrone Wehry Jr., 23, were killed in a cabin fire near Madisonburg, Centre County, on March 22, 1998, that also claimed the lives of eight other teens and young adults. Eight of the fire victims were from the Line Mountain community.

Also, Masser's brother, John, died from cancer at just 44 years old on May 6, 2008.

Smith was a daughter of Masser's sister, Karen (Masser) Appel, of Elysburg, and Scott D. Smith, of Lavelle. She was a stepdaughter of Ralpho Township Police Chief Stuart Appel.

Smith is survived by a son, Todd "T.J." Brosius Jr.