When Richie Lewis first met Samantha Miller, she was working as a waitress at Alfonso’s Family Trattoria & Gourmet Pizzeria in Somerville, N.J.
She’s really pretty, he thought.
He tried his best to flirt with her. When Miller brought a bread basket over, he noticed one piece of bread with a hole in it. He picked it up and looked at her through the hole.
“I asked her if she took a bite out of my bread,” Lewis told The Palm Beach Post.
It worked. She smiled.
That was four years ago and the two started dating shortly after.
They soon found out they had a lot in common, including addiction — he with alcohol, and her with drugs. About seven months into their relationship, Lewis came down to South Florida for treatment and Miller followed.
They dated off and on through the years, and while Lewis got sober and stayed sober, Miller struggled.
Miller was found dead in an SUV in a Publix parking lot on Tuesday.
Those who knew her well suspect she overdosed. Her drug of choice was heroin.
“I’m just in shock,” said Lewis, 28. “It doesn’t seem real.”
The 27-year-old Miller became the face of the recovery struggle in South Florida. She came here for help. She got sober. She helped other addicts get sober. She relapsed. She went missing. She died.
Lewis reported Miller missing Nov. 18 after she left their Boynton Beach apartment in his SUV to go to Walmart, and never returned. Miller’s parents and sister came down to search for her a few days later, and community members who didn’t even know the family were so consumed by the story of the missing woman that they offered to help pass out fliers, search the streets, and spread the word.
From the beginning, Miller’s mother Deirdre knew something had gone wrong. It wasn’t like her daughter to cut off contact with her younger sister, Madison. And it wasn’t like her to leave behind her animals — two cats, Kash and Karma, two bunnies, Lola and Charlie, and two gerbils.
She was especially worried because she didn’t think her daughter had her medicine for depression and bipolar disorder, which she’d been battling since she was a teen.
“My daughter was lured to the beaches, palm trees, warm weather and sun,” Deirdre Miller told The Post on Wednesday. “When I arrived to Florida and I walked the streets for a week, I was devastated with what I have seen.” She mentioned the run-down neighborhoods, young addicts sleeping in parks and panhandling.
“This is not what is promised to our children struggling with addiction problems,” she said.
The SUV Miller was discovered in was pulled into a parking spot in a secluded part of a Publix parking lot in an area nearly overgrown by trees. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s detectives believe Miller was there for a couple of days before she was found. They were alerted to the car after a Publix employee reported a foul smell coming from it.
In the days leading up to her disappearance, Miller hadn’t acted any differently, Lewis said. She seemed happy.
But she had been using recently. And friends of hers say she had already started distancing herself from others.
“The whole thing is really sad. It really shows what your addiction will do. It breaks you apart. It isolates you,” said Sam Morrison, who dated Miller and worked with her at a West Palm Beach treatment facility.
Miller worked there as a tech after she was sober. The two dated for about five months.
She became a role model to some, like Meaghan Treiling.
Treiling, 23, was addicted to heroin and there were so many days in the beginning when she wanted to give up.
But Miller was there to help her.
When Treiling sat crumpled in the corner in the throes of a panic attack, Miller tried to pull her out of it.
Miller calmed her down and shared stories of her own recovery. She helped Treiling find meetings to attend.
“That’s what really hit me about this. Samantha, how I knew her, was very happy and happy to be clean and happy to be in recovery,” Treiling told The Post.
But it didn’t last.
Miller and Morrison, 34, started to go separate ways by this past December. It was tough love. He was sober. And he didn’t want to put his sobriety in jeopardy. She was working two jobs — at the facility and at a laundromat — to be able to pay rent. She quit the facility and went full time at the laundromat, a place Morrison said wasn’t good for her because drugs and alcohol were around.
She admitted to Morrison she relapsed and was using heroin again.
“When she was off drugs she was this beautiful human being and she was happy and she was caring,” Morrison said.
And no matter what, she always cared deeply for her family, and always stayed in contact, he said.
After Miller and Morrison broke up, Morrison didn’t feel he could keep in contact with her.
“I had to put distance between us to save myself. I was continuing on the path of sobriety … and she was kind of doing what she wanted all the time,” he said. “Drugs. They can really destroy relationships.”
Treiling hadn’t heard from her in about a month.
“I just didn’t think that she’d end up like that. I had heard she was using again, and she was struggling, but I mean I just thought she’d pull out of it,” she said.
Treiling said she’s been sober for more than a year, and credits Miller and the other techs she met along the way for her success. She now works at Reliance Addiction Treatment Centers in North Palm Beach.
“She helped me so much,” Treiling said. “I’ve always looked up to her and that’s how I’ll remember her — as a strong woman in recovery.”