What Wise County and Southwest Virginia Narcotics Task Force authorities have dubbed "Operation Street Sweeper," the fourth such operation in a series of operations since April of last year targeted residents primarily in and around Big Stone Gap. All 29 face charges handed down by the multi-jurisdictional grand jury.
The initial Street Sweeper investigation last April resulted in charges filed against nearly 50 individuals. Street Sweeper II and III netted a combined 80 or so more drug suspects.
"We are making progress every day in the fight against drugs in Wise County and the city of Norton," said Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Ron Elkins.
"Anyone selling illegal drugs in Wise County should be concerned because we are out there watching. We've seen an increase in (street) prices, an increase in the number of people going to jail, and the number of people arrested (with each successive Street Sweeper operation) is lower."
Elkins, who has headed up most of the drug prosecutions during the Street Sweeper program, said that responsibility will be handed to Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Suzanne Kerney-Quillen when he assumes the county's top prosecution post next week. Commonwealth's Attorney Chad Dotson is leaving the post to assume a judgeship in the 30th Circuit.
Elkins said the county has "made a lot of progress" in cleaning up the illicit drug culture in Wise County because of the Street Sweeper series of investigations and roundups of suspects. He said the ongoing drug crackdown takes "a huge amount of manpower," but the results are worth the effort.
"We have some of the best law enforcement officers in the state. Men and women who have dedicated their lives to protect Wise County citizens," Elkins said. "This mass arrest is another step in keeping Wise County a great place to live."
Those in custody and their charges (all are from Big Stone Gap unless otherwise indicated) include: Peggy Bates, 48, distribution of Lortab; Ronald Bates, 45, distribution of Percocet; Walter Cooper, 49, two counts of distributing Lortab and one count each of distribution of cocaine and Roxicet; Franklin Thacker, 40, Appalachia, one count each of distributing OxyContin and morphine; Bobby Coomer, 25, one count of distributing Lortab.
Also: Elvira Gilliam, 25, one count of distributing Percocet; Karen Hamilton, 31, distributing Lortab; Susie Coomer, 49, distributing Percocet; Stephen Gibson, 33, distributing Lortab; Lisa Meade, 46, distributing methadone; Shawn Perry, 37, distributing OxyContin; Patricia Anderson, 46, distributing marijuana; Kenneth Diets, 27, distributing Lortab.
Also: Bobby DeBoard, 51, distributing Lortab; Anthony Diets, 26, distributing morphine; Michelle Fleenor, 41, distributing Lortab; Angela Stidham, 37, two counts of distributing Lortab; Donald VanBuren Gilliam, 28, two counts of distributing morphine and one count each of distributing marijuana and OxyContin; Brent Cedric Ball, 23, distributing cocaine; and Randall Tiller, 30, distributing morphine.