Following a series of federal drug indictments and arrests in July 2012, however, Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said the overdose rate in Beech Creek has dropped off to almost nothing.
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney William Killian held a press conference in Rogersville to announce that 32 federal drug suspects who were the target of a four-year investigation had pleaded guilty on drug distribution charges in connection with those federal indictments. Those defendants are now awaiting sentencing.
The investigation began in 2009 and targeted suspects in Hawkins, Greene, and Sullivan counties who were trafficking large quantities of cocaine and marijuana supplied by a drug trafficking organization in North Carolina.
The Beech Creek connection was allegedly distributing large quantities of oxycodone pills initially obtained from Nevada and later from a pain clinic near Atlanta.
Authorities said Charles T. Laing, a part-time Beech Creek resident, opened the Liberty Wellness Pain Clinic in Norcross, Ga., in 2010 and began using the clinic to obtain oxycodone for distribution in East Tennessee. In April 2012, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in Georgia raided the clinic and shut it down.
Overall the investigation netted more than 300 pounds of cocaine, more than 16,000 pounds of marijuana, more than 20,000 Oxycodone pills and $2.5 million in cash.
Of those 32 federal guilty pleas, 23 were either permanent residents of Hawkins County or lived there at some point during the investigation.
“This illustrates the impact that drugs can have on a community,” Lawson told the Times-News. “As a result of this investigation and aggressive prosecution, we went from almost weekly overdoses to virtually none since these federal indictments were handed down in July. These defendants brought this plague into their own community and profited while lives of their neighbors, their friends, and even their own family members were being destroyed.”
Lawson added, “We haven’t finished in Beech Creek or other locations throughout the county. But we can say that as a result of this investigation, Beech Creek is a safer place to live.”
The 32 defendants who pleaded guilty include:
•William A. Lawson, 66, Rogersville.
•Randal Michael Lawson, 57, Limestone.
•James Light, 64, Rogersville.
•Kenneth A. Lawson, 45, Limestone.
•Tia L. Lawson, 40, Kingsport.
•Elia Maria Camacho Garcia, 30, Burlington, N.C.
•Brock A. Lawson, 26, Rogersville.
•Jeffrey M. Bledsoe, 31, Kingsport.
•Jessica L. Lawson, 32, Bristol.
•Charles T. Laing, 30, Boynton Beach.
•Jackie D. Dykes, 48, Rogersville.
•Michael L. Dykes, 51, Rogersville.
•Lorne L. Loucel, 32, Rogersville.
•Lisa A. Crawford, 37, Rogersville.
•Virginia D. “Ginger” Light, 49, Rogersville.
•Asa Kermit M. Calhoun, 33, Rogersville.
•Steve A. Gooch, 29, Rogersville.
•Jonathan L. Light, 24, Kingsport.
•Jeremy R. Light, 28, Rogersville.
•Michael B. Dykes, 30, Rogersville.
•Daniel L. Dykes, 29, Rogersville.
•Christy D. Dykes, 32, Rogersville.
•Levi D. Love, 24, Kingsport.
•Shandeeda M. Compton, 31, Rogersville.
•Jessica R. Bernard, 23, Greeneville.
•Cody A. Arnold, 27, Greeneville.
•Joyce L. Malone, 35, Greeneville.
•Christopher L. Tipton, 30, Afton, Tenn.
•Abbey M. Armstrong, 28, Greeneville.
•Amanda D. Bernard, 23, Greeneville.
•Christy R. Seay, 39, Greeneville.
•Marvin Neal Southerland, 34, Greeneville.
Randall Michael Lawson faces a mandatory term of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $20 million.
William A. Lawson, Kenneth A. Lawson, Tia L. Lawson, Brock A. Lawson, and Jessica L. Lawson each face mandatory terms of 10 years in prison and maximum fines of $10 million.
James Light, Elia Maria Camacho Garcia, and Jeffrey M. Bledsoe each face mandatory terms of five years in prison, maximum fines of $5 million.
The remaining individuals each face maximum terms of 20 years in prison and maximum fines of $1 million.
Additionally, Laing and Jeffrey Bledsoe both face consecutive terms of five years for firearms charges.
Killian praised the efforts of sheriff’s departments from Hawkins, Sullivan, and Greene counties; the Second and Third Judicial Drug Task Forces, Kingsport Police Department, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and DEA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Caryn L. Hebets prosecuted the cases.