SURGOINSVILLE - Meth lab seizures in Hawkins County last year were cut to one third the level of the previous several years as scores of traffickers and manufacturers have gone to prison and state laws make it harder to obtain meth ingredients.
But, as is usually the case in the world of illegal drugs, when one product is taken off the market, another steps up to take its place. The next big drug problem to be faced by area law enforcement may be cocaine, which has been popping up in arrests in greater quantities in recent weeks.
This past Thursday evening the Hawkins County Sheriff's Department seized seven ounces of powder cocaine, almost exactly $20,000 worth, from a suspected crack house at 220 Bray Road in Surgoinsville. Seven people in the residence including accused ringleader Ronnie Edward "Cotton" Seals, 50, of that address, were allegedly in the process of transforming the powder cocaine into crack cocaine.
Deputies also allegedly seized eight grams of the completed crack cocaine, two ounces of marijuana, 14 hydrocodone pills, five Valiums and $3,300 in cash. The sheriff's department also seized a 1994 Royal Fifth Wheel camper.
"We had been gathering intelligence on the trafficking of drugs at this house on Bray Road," Sheriff Roger Christian said. "We obtained a search warrant on Thursday evening, and upon entry the deputies discovered that they were in the process of cooking their crack cocaine. It was a pretty good amount.
"A quantity of cocaine like that can do a lot of damage on the streets, and the investigators who worked on this case did a great job of seizing these drugs before they made into the public."
Seals was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, maintaining a dwelling where drugs are sold, possession of Schedule II narcotics, possession of Schedule III narcotics, possession of Schedule IV narcotics and possession of drug paraphernalia. His alleged accomplices were charged with a variety of different charges, the most serious of which is conspiracy to distribute Schedule II narcotics.
Historically people found guilty of that charge in Hawkins County have received an eight-year prison sentence.
Those six other people arrested with Seals Thursday evening include Danny Dale Morgan, 26, 610 Old Route 70 Lot 9, Rogersville; Mary Ann Bible, 44, 2066 Pressman's Home Road, Rogersville; Shellena Kay Charles, 29, 128 Don Charles Road, Surgoinsville; Raymond Earl Davis, 41, 150 Arther St., Rogersville; Tammy Sue Hickman, 44, 263 Cope Lane, Rogersville; and Jerry Lynn Burton, 53, 2066 Pressman's Home Road, Rogersville.
Christian said Sunday he's heard indications that cocaine is making a comeback in the region.
"I was at a Sheriff's Association meeting last week and there was some talk that the decrease in availability of methamphetamine has created a bigger market for cocaine, and that's going to be the next major problem," Christian said. "It remains to be seen if that does play out or not. I can say that if someone traffics in drugs in Hawkins County, eventually we're going to get them and send them to prison."
During Thursday's raid at 220 Bray Street, numerous people arrived at the suspected crack house while officers were still there. Among those who stopped at the alleged crack house, seven were arrested including:
• Phillip Shannon Barrett, 32, 1869 Hickory Cove, Surgoinsville, for DUI, open container, possession of drug paraphernalia and violation of the implied consent law.
• Stanley Wendell McPeek, 46, 3118 King Valley Road, Surgoinsville, for DUI, open container and violation of the implied consent law.
• Tabitha Annette McLain, 28, 3243 Stanley Valley Road, Surgoinsville, for possession of Schedule II narcotics and possession of Schedule III narcotics.
• James Luther Stephens, 62, 2452 Clinch Valley Road, Thorn Hill, for public intoxication.
• Billy Joe Harrell, 27, 151 Haygood Circle, Mooresburg, for possession of marijuana.
• Darren Lee Blair, 41, 250 Gene Derrick Road, Surgoinsville, for driving on a revoked license.
• Mickey Lee McLain, 27, 3243 Stanley Valley Road, Surgoinsville, for possession of Schedule II narcotics and possession of Schedule III narcotics.