Hiawassee, Ga. – The Towns County Sheriff’s Office in the last month has continued to make good on its promise to pursue the arrests of suspects on drug related charges in the Towns County Community, with more traffic stops and searches producing arrests. The coronavirus covid-19 pandemic with all the issues surrounding the daily operational procedures has not stopped investigators and deputies from arresting suspects on drug related charges.
On Saturday April 18th, Towns County Sheriff’s Office investigators and deputies searched a residence located off Mill Creek Road in Hiawassee. Upon completion of the search the following drug suspects were arrested on the following charges:
Jonathan Campbell age 28 of Blairsville was charged with 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Trafficking Methamphetamine and 1 Count of Possession of Drug Related Objects
Joseph Levi Farist age 25 of Blairsville was charged with 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Trafficking Methamphetamine, 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Possession of a Schedule II Drug, 1 Count Crossing a Guard Line with Drugs, and 1 Count Possession of Drug Related Objects
Sonia Renee Taylor age 44 of Hiawassee was charged with 1 Count of V.G.C.S.A. Trafficking Methamphetamine, and 1 Count of Possession of Drug Related Objects
Julian Marc Fuller age 24 of Hiawassee was charged with 1 Count of V.G.C.S.A. Trafficking Methamphetamine and 1 Count Possession of Drug Related Objects
On Friday May 1st Towns County Sheriff’s Office investigators and deputies went to a residence located off State Highway 288 in Hiawassee to serve an arrest warrant. Upon further investigation at the residence arrested the following drug suspects:
Levi James Peterson age 37 of Hiawassee was charged 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Possession of Marijuana and 1 Count of Possession of Drug Related Objects
Michael Wayne McKinney age 50 of Hiawassee was charged with 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Possession of Methamphetamine, 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Possession of Marijuana, 1 Count Obstruction of an Law Enforcement Officer, and 1 Count Crossing a Guard Line with Drugs
Ramona Lynn Montgomery age 51 of Hiawassee was charged with 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Possession of Marijuana and 1 Count Possession of Drug Related Objects
On Monday May 4th Towns County Deputies searched a residence located off Cunningham Road in Young Harris. Upon completion of the search deputies arrested Michael Henry Beeman age 56 of Young Harris and charged him with 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Possession of Methamphetamine, 1 Count Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon and 1 Count Possession of Drug Related Objects.
On Saturday May 9th during the early morning hours Towns County deputies were dispatched to a residence located off Drayton Way in Young Harris in reference to a 911 Hang Up call. Deputies upon arrival and further investigation discovered those living at the residence to be in possession of illegal drugs that being Marijuana. Warrants were obtained and the following suspects were arrested:
Terry Allen Smith age 56 of Young Harris was charged with 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Possession of Marijuana and 1 Count Possession of Drug Related Objects
Tracey Durkin Smith age 56 of Young Harris eas charged with 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Possession of Marijuana and1 Count Possession of Drug Related Objects
On Monday May 11th a Towns County Deputy made a traffic stop on a GMC pickup on Konahetah Road in Hiawassee. Upon further investigation Cody Michael Crane age 32 of Hiawassee was arrested for 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Possession of a Schedule IV Drug and 1 Count Possession of Drug Related Objects.
On Friday May 15th a Towns County Deputy made a traffic stop on a Ford Crown Vic on State Highway 288 in Hiawassee. Upon further investigation the driver identified as Georgia Mae McFalls age 59 of Helen, Georgia was arrested for 1 Count V.G.C.S.A. Possession of Marijuana.
More drug arrests will be forthcoming soon. All the cases are still active and ongoing. The cases will be forwarded to the Enotah Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. All suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Substance abuse casts a dark shadow over far too many lives, and law enforcement officers continue the battle to combat the epidemic from a legal standpoint.
On Monday, April 1, Towns County Sheriff’s Office arrested Kristy Lynn McGaha, 38, charging McGaha with the following offenses:
- Two counts sale of methamphetamine
- Purchase/possession/manufacture/distribution/sale of methamphetamine
- Possession of methamphetamine
- Purchase/possession/manufacture/distribution/sale of marijuana
- Possession/use of marijuana
On Sunday, April 7, Yonah Peppers, 44, was arrested by Georgia State Patrol, charging Peppers with the following violations:
- Possession of methamphetamine
- Possession of Schedule 1 controlled substance
- Possession of marijuana – less than one ounce
- Driving under the influence of alcohol
McGaha and Peppers are being held at the Towns County Detention Center without bond.
While circumstances surrounding individual drug use differ, statistics reveal that the proportion of Americans who use methamphetamine on a monthly basis has hovered in the range of .02 to .03 percent since 1999.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine is highly addictive due to its potent action on the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals: dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine induces feelings of pleasure, reward, and motivation. Because methamphetamine significantly increases the brain’s levels of dopamine, the substance creates a euphoric rush when users ingest, inhale, or inject the drug.
Methamphetamine impacts the brain’s levels of serotonin, which is responsible for regulating mood, appetite, and memory. When the effects of methamphetamine subside, the brain is depleted of both dopamine and serotonin, creating feelings of depression and anxiety. Repeated use of methamphetamine leads to increased tolerance, causing users to require a higher dose to receive the same effect.
In 2018, Georgia Bureau of Investigation listed methamphetamine as the lead substance tested in the state crime lab.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Terry Silvers, 52, a resident of Hiawassee, suffered fatal injuries Saturday, Feb. 23, in Clay County, NC, after the pickup truck that he was driving collided with another vehicle on NC-69. FYN released information three days after the deadly crash, divulging that Silvers had been involved in an accident in Towns County the night prior to his death.
Towns County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Friday evening incident on Bugscuffle Road, and Silvers was released without charges. The accident report stated that alcohol or substance screenings were not conducted. Towns County Sheriff’s Office reported that the accident was the result of shifting firewood in the bed of Silvers’ truck.
Multiple individuals contacted FYN to speak on behalf of Silvers, two of whom requested to go on-record, asserting that they believe Silvers would still be alive had local law enforcement reacted to prior incidents in a different manner.
“Towns County Sheriff’s Office needs to be investigated,” Mark Silvers, brother of the victim, began. “Not only did Terry wreck the night before. but there were more times before that. Towns County law was on scene, and my brother was let go. He should have been locked up. People were telling them that he was messed up, and if they’d done their job the night before the fatal night, my brother would be alive. Towns County law should be fully responsible for his death. If they’d done their job and locked him up Friday night, my brother would still be with us today. He’s been let go many times.”
Mark Silvers went on to say that his brother battled an opioid addiction. “Even though he wasn’t drunk, the law should have known he was on drugs. A lot people told them, ‘What was it going to take? Him to kill someone or kill himself before they do something?’ and by that time, it was too late.”
Silvers iterated that numerous individuals had conveyed to Towns County Sheriff’s Office on multiple occassions that Terry Silvers was under the influence of narcotics, and that Silvers should not return behind the wheel without facing legal consequences.
Belinda Munger, a former Towns County 911 dispatcher and neighbor of Silvers, additionally contacted FYN, stating that Silvers had a history of drug use and accidents. On different occassions, Munger stated that Towns County Sheriff’s Office responded to accidents which Silvers was involved, although the now-deceased was not taken into custody. Munger reported that in December, 2017, Silvers was involved in an accident in front of her home. Munger said that she described what ensued to responding deputies. “We also had told them he was under the influence of pills and it was very obvious…,” Munger explained. “I was very distraught, had he not hit the tree, he would have ran into my house, into my son’s bedroom. The officers advised my neighbor, when she showed up, that they did not have to notify her, even though it was her property where he wrecked. I tried to reach out to (Towns County) Sheriff (Chris) Clinton, but there was no attempt of a returned phone call from him. Nothing more came of this call.”
Upon suggestion from a confidential source, FYN filed an open record request to review 911 audio of the “be-on-the-lookout” (BOLO) issued to Towns County Sheriff’s Office immediately prior to Silvers death.
Heather Segars, a local resident, called 911 to report Silvers’ white Toyota driving recklessly on Highway 76, immediately prior to the fatal accident. Throughout the audio, Segars pleads for law enforcement to quickly respond. “He’s gonna kill somebody” is repeated on the graphic tape.
In the recording, a blaring siren can be heard as Segars pulls behind Silvers into the parking lot of Cornerstone BP, at the intersection of Highway 76 and Highway 17, in Young Harris. “There’s the law right there that’s passing me,” Segar says, to which the dispatcher responds,”Yeah, they’re going to another call.” Segars then identified the driver as Terry Silvers. Segars continued to follow Silvers’ vehicle as it exited the Cornerstone BP parking lot, headed north on Highway 17 toward the Georgia-North Carolina state line, with Segars begging the dispatcher to remain on the line. “Please, they’ve got to hurry…I’ve got to make sure he gets pulled over,” Segar pleads in the dramatic audio, “Where are they at?!”
The emergency recording documents Segars pursuing Silvers into Clay County, NC. The 911 operator stated prior that Clay County Sheriff’s Office had been notified. “Are they close?” Segars asked, “He’s in other lanes, cars coming.”
Segars can be heard screaming and weeping as she witnessed the fatal accident occur near King’s Pharmacy, south of Hayesville. Silvers re-entered into the southbound lane of traffic, colliding head-on with another vehicle occupied by a grandmother and her granddaughter. The family sustained non-life threatening injuries. “Oh God, he’s dead…,” Segars is heard crying, “I tried to tell y’all to hurry!”
Segars told someone at the scene, “I’ve been on the phone with 911 since Hiawassee…Oh God, he’s dead. I’ve been on the phone since Papa’s Pizza.” A siren can be heard arriving at the scene of the accident as the tragic call ends.
According to emergency responders, Silvers died upon collision with the oncoming vehicle, the result of firewood ejecting into the cab of the Toyota pickup that he was driving. North Carolina Highway Patrol stated that Silvers did not appear to brake prior to impact, and that road conditions were not unfavorable at the time of the deadly crash. North Carolina Highway Patrol requested a toxicology screen on Silvers, and the investigation remains open. Results of the toxicology test are expected in coming weeks.
FYN contacted Towns County Sheriff’s Office, offering an opportunity to provide a response. A statement had not been received at the time of publication.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County has joined in a class-action lawsuit filed against the pharmaceutical industry, holding manufacturers responsible for fostering the opioid epidemic that is prevalent throughout the United States. The lawsuit was initiated by a northern Ohio district, and numerous Georgia counties are proceeding toward pending litigation in order to recover financial expenditures.
The lawsuit seeks punitive and compensatory damages for the costs incurred from the opioid epidemic. The expenses include, but are not limited to, the costs associated with law enforcement, prosecution, healthcare, and substance abuse programs that are components in addressing the crisis.
In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical representatives assured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began prescribing them at greater rates, amid a growing concern that pain was not being properly treated. Pharmaceutical representatives aggressively marketed the drugs, claiming that they posed a slight risk of misuse.
The increased disbursement of opioids lead to widespread abuse before it became evident that the medication was highly addictive. Patients who are prescribed the medication for legitimate pain relief often unwittingly find themselves trapped in the torment of addiction.
Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, a proponent of the lawsuit, turned the matter over to Towns County Attorney Robb Kiker.
Attorney Kiker stated that after interviewing five law firms, he recommends Blasingame, Burch, Garrard & Ashley, located in Athens, Georgia, to oversee the case.
Both Bradshaw and Kiker confirmed that Towns County will not invest nor incur any expenses for legal services if the lawsuit is not successful.
“My main concern is not to take a risk with the taxpayers’ money. I just will never do that. No risk at all,” Commissioner Bradshaw assured. “The only thing we have is to gain. We may not gain anything, but we stand a chance to gain something.”
“These pharmaceutical companies, they have went overboard with this, way overboard,” Bradshaw added.
According to statistics provided by the county attorney, 111 opioid prescriptions per 100 residents were dispensed in Towns County during 2016, the period that the last study was conducted. While all of Towns County citizens are clearly not opioid users, it is indicative of the magnitude of the crippling crisis.
“The crisis in the United States is that opioid abuse is the leading cause of death for people under age 50,” Kiker said. “For the first time in 75 years, the life expectancy for people in the United States declined in 2015 and 2016, and it’s directly attributed to opioid abuse.”
FetchYourNews intends to follow developments as the lawsuit proceeds through the court.
According to the latest numbers from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, Fentanyl is now the most commonly used drug involved in overdoses.
The new report says that the rate of drug overdoses involving the synthetic opioid increased by about 113% each year from 2013 through 2016.
What is fentanyl?
Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever, approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
It is prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges and can be diverted for misuse and abuse in the United States.
However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl. It is sold through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination product–with or without the user’s knowledge–to increase its euphoric effects.
Illicitly-made fentanyl use is on the rise
The rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl, doubled from 2015 to 2016. Roughly 19,400 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids other than methadone in 2016.
Reports from law enforcement indicate that much of the synthetic opioid overdose increase may be due to illegally or illicitly made fentanyl. According to data from the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, confiscations, or seizures, of fentanyl increased by nearly 7 fold from 2012 to 2014. There were 4,585 fentanyl confiscations in 2014. This suggests that the sharp rise in fentanyl-related deaths may be due to increased availability of illegally made, non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, and not prescribed fentanyl.
The number of states reporting 20 or more fentanyl confiscations every six months is increasing. From July to December 2014, 18 states reported 20 or more fentanyl drug confiscations. By comparison, six states reported 20 or more fentanyl drug confiscations from July to December 2013.
What can be done?
CDC suggests the following actions in response to increases in fentanyl-related overdose deaths:
Improve detection of fentanyl outbreaks
- Public health departments:
Explore methods for more rapidly detecting drug overdose outbreaks, including fentanyl.
- Medical examiners and coroners:
Screen for fentanyl in suspected opioid overdose cases in regions reporting increases in fentanyl confiscations, fentanyl-related overdose fatalities or unusually high spikes in heroin or unspecified drug overdose fatalities. Not all jurisdictions routinely test for fentanyl.
- Law enforcement:
Law enforcement can play an important role identifying and responding to increases in the distribution and use of illegally-made fentanyl.
Expand Use of Naloxone
Naloxone is a safe and effective antidote to opioid-related overdoses, including heroin and fentanyl, and is a critical tool in preventing fatal opioid overdoses. Depending on state and local laws, this medication can be administered by EMS, law enforcement, other drug users, or family and friend bystanders who have obtained the medication.9
- Health Care Providers:
Multiple doses of naloxone may need to be administered per overdose event because of fentanyl’s high potency relative to other opioids.10
- Harm reduction organizations:
Conduct trainings on naloxone use to persons at risk for opioid-related overdose and their friends and family members.
Decatur, GA – Within the past week, the GBI Crime Lab’s drug identification unit received three cases from separate seizures of the synthetic opioid carfentanil. Carfentanil is a fentanyl analog used as a tranquilizer on large animals such as elephants.
It is purported to be 100 times stronger than fentanyl and suspected of playing a role in hundreds of overdoses in the Midwest part of the country this past month. It can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and very toxic in small quantities. The cases that came in the lab were from the metro Atlanta area and were all suspected to be heroin. As a result of this drug coming into the GBI Crime Lab, lab scientists have enhanced their safety protocols to protect them from the potential dangers.
Some of the changes include wearing a face mask as well as testing any case suspected to contain heroin under a ventilated hood. Officer safety is of grave concern and all officers are strongly encouraged to take extreme caution when handling any suspected opioid.
Carfentanil is not intended for human use and the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan may be effective but only after multiple doses. The public is urged to be aware of the extreme dangers of handling and consuming carfentanil.
Murphy, NC— Sheriff Derrick Palmer announced the Union County Georgia Sheriff’s Office arrest of James Lanier Heaton, George David Gowder III, John Michael Gowder, Virginia Lou Harkins, Gail Gowder, and Jamie Harkins all who provided Blairsville Georgia addresses, for charges stemming from a joint investigation into prescription fraud.
FYN spoke with officials and the hospital confirms John Michael Gowder is the CEO of Union General.
The joint operation involved members of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Tactical Diversion Squad, the Union County Georgia Sheriff’s Office and the Cherokee County North Carolina Sheriff’s Office. Although the investigation is ongoing to date information has been discovered that would indicate that the ring was operating in Cherokee County North Carolina and may be facing charges here as well.
Sheriff Palmer stated “We enjoyed the opportunity to work with the agencies involved. Sheriff Mack Mason and his Office have been a tremendous ally as we are sending the message No longer can you deal drugs across county and state lines – We will hunt you down and prosecute you.”
Sheriff Palmer encourages any one that has information on this crime or any other to report it. To report crime in Cherokee County you can call the anonymous tip line at 828-837-1344 or email a tip at [email protected] or call 911 if you observe a crime in progress.