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Series of drug charges tops busy start to new year for Unicoi County law enforcement

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 18, 2020 at 9:00 AM

ERWIN — In the latest chapter of what has been a very active new year for law enforcement in Unicoi County, Sheriff Mike Hensley on Friday announced the arrest of nine people on methamphetamine and weapons charges stemming from a year-long federal investigation.

Hensley said the last of the nine arrests was made Thursday at an Erwin home where officers had information the suspect, Robbie English, had threatened to use explosives to kill any officers who attempted to arrest him.

The Johnson City Bomb Squad was called to the home after what appeared to be an explosive device was found in the basement. The device was determined to be a hoax and, under questioning by investigators, English said the bogus explosive was intended to deter his arrest, Hensley said.

English was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense and knowing transfer of a firearm for use in a drug trafficking crime.

Also arrested were:

• Jeremy Wayne Effler: charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, knowing transfer of a firearm for use in a drug trafficking crime and making a false statement on a form;

• Joshua Tyler Hampton: charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense and knowing transfer of a firearm for use in a drug trafficking crime;

• Robert Gene Edwards Jr.: charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine;

• Michael Chad Duncan: charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine;

• Jason Beechard Woody: charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense;

• Rene Bond: charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense;

• Stephanie Shelton Gentry: charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine; and

• Corey McInturff: charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

Hensley said the arrests “should send a strong message that Unicoi County will not tolerate methamphetamine dealers.

“This investigation is ongoing. Federal agents are continuing their work in the county. Anyone dealing in drugs will be a target,” he said.

Budget Inn

Also on Friday, an agreed order was filed in Unicoi County Circuit Court to modify the temporary injunction used to close Unicoi’s Budget Inn on Jan. 8.

Signed by Judge Stacy Street, the agreed order allows Budget Inn owner Rohit “Ray” Majethia and his workers to access the property for trash removal, exterior work and water, sewer, electrical and structural inspection between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Jan. 18 to Jan. 25. The order says Majethia must coordinate any needed access to the interior of the building with local law enforcement.

The order also stipulates that no agreement has been reached in the public nuisance petition filed against Majethia and property owner Jai Jalaram Krupa and that state prosecutors will proceed with a hearing on the temporary injunction on Feb. 24.

Street granted the temporary injunction Jan. 7 based on a petition in which the district attorney’s office cited more than 100 reports of criminal activity at the hotel over a 30-month period.

Sheriff’s deputies were preparing to execute the temporary injunction to close the hotel on the morning of Jan. 8 when a resident was found dead outside the hotel from an apparent drug overdose.

The public nuisance petition contends the hotel has been “a haven for illegal activity,” including the sale and delivery of narcotics, thefts, fights, stabbings, robberies, attempted murder and prostitution.

Area Burglaries

On Tuesday, Hensley announced the arrests of two men charged with taking thousands of dollars worth of tools from the Regal manufacturing facility on Temple Hill Road on Monday.

Hensley told the Johnson City Press Friday deputies recovered two truck loads of stolen items at various locations and are continuing the investigation in attempt to recover two generators and possibly other equipment that were also taken from Regal.

Nicholas Ryan Meadows and Randal S. Riddle were arrested on charges including felony burglary, Hensley said.

In an unrelated burglary, the Sheriff’s Department this week renewed its request for help locating a truck believed to be involved in a Jan. 7 burglary of a Unicoi home in which crossbows and large number of guns were stolen.

Hensley requested anyone who recognizes the vehicle — a small, brown late 1990s-2002 Dodge pickup — call him at 388-0058 or his department at 743-1850. Tips on the truck may be made anonymously.

Manhunt

A weeks-long search for a Johnson City man authorities said eluded arrest in a high speed police pursuit and fled on foot into a mountainous section of North Carolina on New Year’s Day has also concluded.

On Wednesday the sheriff announced Christopher Saults, who was wanted on outstanding warrants in Carter County and several new charges in Unicoi County and Yancey County, North Carolina, had been arrested by Johnson City police.

On Jan. 1, Unicoi deputies initiated a pursuit of a car after observing it driving at more than 100 mph on Temple Hill Road. The high-speed chase continued eastward in the west bound emergency lane of on I-26 before the car exited the interstate in the Temple Hill community where deputies lost sight of his vehicle.

The car, which authorities said Saults was driving, was later found abandoned on a Spivey Mountain side road near the North Carolina border. A woman who was in the car was also located on the mountain and taken to a hospital for treatment after she told deputies the two had been using drugs.

Yancey County, N.C. authorities joined the search and on Jan. 3 reported Saults was suspected of taking a handgun and camouflage clothing from a camper near a home where two women who did not know Saults was wanted had allowed him to use their telephone.

A witness told authorities Saults had called his brother and told him he was going home.

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