ERWIN — What began in October as a Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department investigation into the sale of prescription pills and manufacture of methamphetamine in the county resulted in the Monday arrests of 19 people on various drug charges.
As a result of the investigation, referred to by sheriff’s department officials as “Operation Lifesaver,” six of those arrested were indicted by a Unicoi County grand jury on 14 charges where drugs were sold to undercover operatives, according to the sheriff’s department.
Ten additional people were arrested on 15 felony warrants issued for the sale or facilitation of selling narcotics, and three individuals were arrested without a warrant for related charges discovered during the apprehension of those the sheriff’s department held warrants on, according to UCSD officials.
Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said Monday evening that the investigation targeted the illegal sale of prescription pills due to an increasing number of drug overdose deaths in the county.
“Even before I became sheriff, we was having an enormous amount of young people dying from drug overdoses, and that’s the reason we named this thing ‘Operation Lifesaver,’ ” Hensley said. “It’s all about saving people’s lives, trying to get these people in to get them some help. It’s not about trying to get somebody in trouble, it’s trying to get these people some help and get them off this stuff.”
According to a release from the sheriff’s department, components and apparatuses used to manufacture methamphetamine were discovered at a home on Love Station Road in Erwin. Officials also said that six vehicles have been seized and $2,000 has been confiscated in the investigation, which Hensley said is one of the largest operations targeting prescription pills the department has been involved in.
“As far as a pill investigation, this is the biggest pill investigation that I know we’ve ever had,” he said.
Hensley said undercover officers were not only able to purchase prescription drugs such as Xanax, morphine and OxyContin through the investigation, officers were also able to purchase methamphetamine and psychedelic mushrooms.
Those arrested were:
• Jeff Higgins, 42, 948 Spivey Mountain Road, Erwin, sale of a schedule II drug (methamphetamine).
• Keith W. Richardson, 34, 111 Honey Wilson Lane, Erwin, sale of a schedule III drug and maintain a dwelling where drugs are sold.
• Jerry M. Angel, 33, Room No. 111 Best Southern Motel, Erwin, sale of a schedule II drug, two counts of sale of a schedule IV drug and possession of schedule VI drugs.
• Shelby M. Breedlove, 21, 433 Kentucky St., Erwin, sale of a schedule VI drug.
• Barbara Ann Ramsey, 34, 1114 N. Buffalo St., Erwin, sale of schedule II and III drugs.
• Elaine W. Sparks, 55, 540 Vinton St., Erwin, sale of a schedule III drug.
• Cory T. Maupin, 24, 201 Rich Hollow Road, Erwin, sale of a schedule II drug (methamphetamine) and sale of a schedule VI drug.
• Pamela J. Wiseman, 51, 936 Hoback Ave., Erwin, two counts of sale of a schedule II drug and sale of a schedule IV drug.
• Allen Patrick Parker, 23, 433 Kentucky St., Erwin, sale of a schedule VI drug.
• Christy N. Tilson, 30, 1435 Love Station Road, Erwin, conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.
• Robert W. Franklin, 49, 611 W. Walnut St., Johnson City, conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.
• Douglas G. Gaskin, 52, 1435 Love Station Road, Erwin, conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and maintaining a dwelling where drugs are used or sold.
• Ricky L. Toney, 53, 110 Bowman Lane, Erwin, three counts of sale of schedule III drugs, sale of a schedule II drug and maintaining a dwelling where drugs are used or sold.
• Cynthia Crawford, 50, 344 Clinchfield Ave., Erwin, sale of schedule II and IV drugs.
• Ralph Mahoney, 23, 400 Railroad St., Erwin, two counts of sale of schedule VI drugs and one count of sale of schedule I drugs.
• Glen Emrick, 50, 400 Railroad St., Erwin, maintaining a dwelling where drugs are used or sold.
• Ronnie Riddle, 45, 1101 Johnson Loop, Lot No. 13, Erwin, sale of a schedule III drug.
• Patrick Hampton, 29, 400 Railroad St., Lot No. 7-2, Erwin, criminal responsibility for conduct of another.
• John York, 23, 110 Sandy Lane, Erwin, criminal responsibility for conduct of another.
While these arrests close out the four-month investigation, Hensley said his department will continue to focus on illegal drug sales in the county, adding that he has a message for those who choose to sell drugs.
“We’re putting them on notice,” he said. “If they’re going to deal drugs, they better move from Unicoi County because we will go after them aggressively. We’re not going to put up with it, it’s too dangerous, and we’re not going to tolerate it.
“I hope this sends the message out that just because you get medication from a doctor, if you decide to sell it, you’re breaking the law.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this article included an incorrect charge for Allen Patrick Parker.
The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office on reported March 20 that a discrepancy between charges against Allen Patrick Parker listed in the report released to the public last month and court documents resulted from a typographical error.
The report issued Feb. 18 indicated that Parker was charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. An affidavit of complaint dated Dec. 18 and written by sheriff’s department Investigator Matt McNally stated, however, that Parker was charged with the sale of a schedule VI drug for selling marijuana to a confidential police informant. The warrant for Parker’s arrest was served on Feb. 18, according to court records.
Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Frank Rogers said the “conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine” charge in the report released to local media was in error and resulted from his typographical mistake.