WISE - Area law enforcement agencies, including municipal police departments and the Wise County Sheriff's Department, launched the fifth in Wise County's "Street Sweeper" series of mass arrests of alleged illicit drug users and/or dealers.
Officials on Tuesday said 22 individuals are targeted by "Street Sweeper V," a continuing crackdown on illicit drug use and traffic in the county stretching back nearly a year. The 22 individuals sought for the latest mass arrest have been indicted by Southwest Virginia's multi-jurisdictional grand jury.
Offenses alleged in the latest mass arrest vary, officials said, and some of the individuals indicted are repeat offenders. The initial Operation Street Sweeper investigation resulted in the arrest of nearly 50 people in mid-April of last year. Street Sweepers II, III and IV resulted in charges placed against nearly 110 more individuals.
The focus of the latest roundup has been the illegal use and sale of legitimate pharmaceuticals that have become a favorite illegal drug pursuit and major problem in the region in recent years. Officials said the illegal use of otherwise legal medicines is the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in the region as well as a catalyst for other crimes committed in Wise County and the city of Norton.
Wise County Commonwealth's Attorney Ron Elkins is away from his office this week but in a prepared statement said investigators and prosecutors are "making progress every day in the fight against drugs. Anyone selling illegal drugs in Wise County should be concerned because we are out there watching. 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. This mass arrest is another step in keeping Wise County a great place to live."
Wise County Sheriff Ronnie Oakes said the law enforcement net that keeps scooping up alleged drug users/dealers in Wise County is no accident.
"Probably the biggest thing I want to emphasize is the cooperation of all the agencies involved in dealing with this problem," he said. "It takes all of us in a joint effort to make this happen. We're going to do something about this drug problem. It affects so many people in so many different ways, including children and families in one way or another. It affects all of us, the whole community, really."
The latest arrests stem from an extensive, ongoing investigation by the Southwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force with other agencies including Oakes' department and sheriff's departments in Lee, Dickenson and Scott counties, the police departments of Big Stone Gap and Norton, and the Virginia State Police. Other municipal police departments have been involved in past roundups over the last year, depending on communities investigators choose to cast their net during a particular Street Sweeper probe.
Individuals taken into custody and charged as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday included:
• Michael Seth Chumbley, 20, Wise, charged with distributing marijuana and distributing marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school. • David Whittington, 28, of Wise, charged with distribution of Fentanal.
• Donald Bowman, 21, Wise, charged with distribution of cocaine.
• Kimberly Dawn Church, 39, Wise, charged with distribution of Lortab.
• Robert Wilder, 48, Coeburn, charged with two counts of distribution of Lortab and one count of distributing Percocet.
• Shawn Collins, 36, Norton, charged with distribution of morphine.
• Greg Marlow, 39, Wise, charged with distribution of Percocet, two counts of distributing Lortab, three counts of distribution of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school.
• Mildred Louise Hurd, 65, Coeburn, charged with distribution of Lortab.
• James Hopkins, 62, charged with three counts of distributing OxyContin, two counts of possession of explosive devices, one count of maintaining a fortified dwelling used for the distribution of drugs, and possession of a stolen firearm.
• Michelle Thomas, 43, Coeburn, charged with distribution of Lortab.
• Dorothy Hamm, 53, Coeburn, charged with distribution of Lortab.
• Eelhanon Hurt, 53, Coeburn, charged with two counts distribution of Lortab.
• Clarence Roy Cantrell, 47, Wise, charged with two counts of distributing marijuana.
Officials also reported seizure of a half-ounce of processed marijuana and 10 marijuana plants during Cantrell's arrest.