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Westgate’s David and Jackie Siegel honor daughter who died of overdose

Updated October 20, 2019 - 9:00 am

Victoria Siegel was the type of kid who would routinely visit the local Humane Society shelter.

Sometimes, she just played with the dogs.

Other times, she came home with a pet.

“She brought home one that I called the ugliest dog in the world,” Victoria’s father, Westgate Resorts founder David Siegel, says of the mixed-breed dog. “She named it Zen. Nobody would adopt this dog, but Victoria did. He’s still with us. We still have the dog.”

During a phone interview from the family home near Orlando, Florida, Zen could be heard yapping in the background, as if calling out whenever he heard his late parent’s name mentioned.

Victoria Siegel, known as “Rikki” and a “hippie chick” by friends, loved to sketch and jot down her musings. She died June 6, 2015, of what coroners ruled an accidental overdose of methadone and sertraline. The 18-year-old, who had been sent to rehab for Xanax addiction in the spring of 2015, had been fighting dependence on those powerful medications at the time of her death.

Methadone is a prescription painkiller commonly used to help ease morphine and heroin withdrawal symptoms. Sertraline, sold commercially as Zoloft, is prescribed to treat depression.

Victoria’s parents, David and Jackie Siegel, the “Queen of Versailles” from the infamous documentary, were unaware of the severity of their daughter’s plight at the time of her death. Victoria was often holed up in her room, scribbling and doodling in her diary, which she kept hidden in a nightstand next to her bed.

Victoria wanted that journal to be read by the public, as if she knew she might not live to tell her story herself. She had texted that message to her best friend, who shared it with Jackie at Victoria’s funeral. “Victoria’s Voice” is now a book, a collection of random musings, quotes and doodles, which offer a glimpse into the mind of a young addict.

“Be at peace, not in pieces,” is one handwritten note. Another, in three stacked sentences: “When you’re happy, try to remember that feeling. Because once it goes, you never get it back. Then you’re left with nothing, and there’s nothing you can do.”

A foundation rises

The book, released in December, is the cornerstone of the Victoria Siegel Foundation, the Siegels’ burgeoning charity combating teen drug abuse. The inaugural “An Evening to Save Lives” benefit gala supporting the foundation is set for Friday at the Westgate.

The event will raise funds and awareness for a program dubbed Victory Clubs — inspired in part by Victoria’s name. These clubs follow the same incentive-program template as Siegel’s resorts. Young people who remain drug-free can earn a kind of VIP status in the clubs, which will open offices in Las Vegas and Orlando, and join in partnership with parents and educators across the country.

Victory Clubs are inspired by the nationwide Drug Free Clubs of America initiative, which has 70 schools and 11,000 members on its rolls. Those in eighth grade through college will be afforded certain perks for remaining clean. And if Siegel’s message that, “We’re going to get the kids high on benefits instead of drugs,” doesn’t reach a younger generation, the benefits might.

“They are going to get benefits like getting out of school five minutes early to beat the traffic, preferred parking spaces, head of the line in the cafeteria, free movie tickets, free pizza, free popcorn; hundreds of freebies and discounts,” says Siegel, who also plans to issue black Victory Clubs credit cards to those in the program.

As he explains, “When they go to see a movie with a girlfriend or boyfriend, they show the card and get free tickets, or if they are at a nice restaurant with their family and there is a 30-minute wait, they show the card and they go to the front of the line.”

The foundation is also developing a speaker series, providing advice to families who want to thwart drug use, and counsel for those with a loved one who has become addicted. Siegel continues to push for legislation that would require people to keep prescription medications locked up — similarly to loaded guns — and to create a law that would require doctors to prescribe naloxone for every patient given a prescription for a pain-relief drug.

Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, arrests the effects of an overdose, and Siegel says it would have saved Victoria’s life if it had been administered when she was found unresponsive on the day she died.

“When she overdosed, she was still alive,” David says. “By the time she got to the hospital, she had died. I am a big advocate that if a family has a child who might be using drugs, they should have Narcan in their homes.”

‘Queen of Versailles’

Victoria’s death has led to widespread speculation that she turned to prescription drugs because of the pressures of being the daughter of wealthy and powerful parents. In the “Queen of Versailles” documentary, which David detests, Victoria appeared to be distant from her parents and often aggravated by the family’s lavish lifestyle.

The documentary was filmed in 2008, when Victoria was 12, as the Siegels were constructing their now-legendary 90,000-square-foot mansion near Orlando, which was inspired by Versailles in France.

“She was embarrassed by it, and she was also going through a kind of a bad period in her life, weight-wise,” David says. “Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong.”

As Jackie notes, “In her diary, she said the worst thing that had happened to her was the movie ‘Queen of Versailles.’ When the camera people were around, David would try to lock up somewhere and hide. He had no interest in it or being with them, either. It was hard for them to catch any normal family interaction.”

David adds, “During that same time we were going through the recession, so between business pressure and these film people showing up unexpected. … I would throw them out, and Jackie would bring them back in. They would show up on holidays and birthdays and on Christmas. It was a bad period. Then they showed the company in a bad light. Only about 25 percent of the film was accurate.”

When the documentary was released in 2012, Victoria’s school life worsened.

“Once the movie came out, she was treated totally differently at school,” Jackie says. “People used her to buy the drugs or to get money from her, and since they knew now that she was rich, it was like, ‘Oh, she’s got the rich parents,’ even though she never cared about our money.”

The morning she died, Victoria also received “cruel” texts from the ex-girlfriend of her then-boyfriend. David says his daughter met her while Victoria was getting clean from Xanax, and the ex-girlfriend turned her to harder opiates.

“Let me tell you how she got on Xanax: She was a typical, mixed-up teenager, so we sent her to a psychiatrist for counseling and when she came home, she said, ‘He put me on Xanax,’ ” David says. “A few months later, she was mixed up and was not doing well in high school, so we sent her back, and she said, ‘He doubled my dosage.’

“I was so ignorant. I didn’t know Xanax from Advil. I had no idea what it was or what it does. We had never even seen a marijuana cigarette in our lives, or had ever used a drug, and here she is, struggling with that ‘Queen of Versailles’ movie. It was a perfect storm.”

The Siegels take solace that their daughter, in death, has helped save many lives, including about 1,000 in the Orlando area, through administration of naloxone to those in the throes of overdose. David recites a statistic that 200 people each day die of drug overdoses, saying, “It’s like a jetliner with 200 passengers crashing, every day.”

‘Victoria’s Voice’

Apart from the charity organization and gala, which the Siegels are funding, the couple is developing a movie about their daughter, titled “Victoria’s Voice.” Rian Johnson (“Brick,” “The Brothers Bloom”) is producing, with direction from Matt Shapira (“Big Muddy”), and writing from Scott Mullen (“In Broad Daylight,” “The Summoning”). Jackie is playing a cameo role as a volunteer at the animal shelter.

Roles have not been cast. David will not be in the film, but says, “My only direction to them was that I wanted it to be like ‘Schindler’s List,’ and when the movie is over, I don’t want people clapping. I want them to really get the message and solemnly walk out. They are going to show Victoria as a sweet, wonderful, beautiful 18-year-old girl who dies when she shouldn’t have.”

Jackie is asked what she would say to their daughter if she had a chance, today.

“I just wish that she would have been open with us instead of keeping it all in her diary,” Jackie says. “I wish she would have leaned on my shoulder and opened her heart with all her internal struggles.”

When he took over the Westgate in July 2014, David says business became his primary interest in life. Now he spends 95 percent of his time working on the drug epidemic while executives run his Westgate empire.

“On my desk, I have two piles of paper,” the billionaire resort magnate says. “One is business-related, and one is drug-related. I look at the business-related and think money. I look at the drug-related and think lives. I work on the drug-related pile. Lives are so much more important than money.”

Siegel pauses, and adds, “I am not a spiritual person, but I feel like there is some higher power that put me in this position so I could make a difference. I don’t want other families to go through what my wife and I have gone through.”

Contact John Katsilometes at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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