WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (AP) – It’s a frigid morning in early February, and a police task force is on the hunt to make good on Sheriff Eugene Crum’s campaign promise to clean up Mingo County’s pervasive drug problem.
Spurred by grand jury indictments, five separate teams fanned out before dawn, kicking down doors in search of dozens of suspects.
The list of prescription drugs and other substances included in the indictment were as varied as the ages and backgrounds of the suspects themselves.
The initial wave nets 18 arrests, with more to follow.
“Here in Mingo County, if you’re dealing drugs, we’re gonna be knocking on your door,” Crum said that day. “Enough is enough.”
Two months later, Crum is killed, leaving a void in a county with an ongoing drug problem that he doggedly worked to eradicate.
His funeral is today, four days after the 59-year-old sheriff was shot to death in a downtown Williamson parking lot where he ate his lunch each day.
Crum spent a decade as a magistrate before resigning in January 2012 to focus on his campaign for sheriff. Last August, he was hired by prosecutor Michael Sparks’ office as a special investigator.
He wanted residents to live without fear that illegal drugs were being sold in their neighborhoods.
He wanted to cut off the flow of drugs that he said often were coming from prescriptions from out-of-state doctors.
A month into that assignment, nine suspects had been arrested, including the third generation of a Dingess family to get in trouble with the law for drug trafficking.
The fight against prescription drugs has been a high-profile one joined by federal authorities who say they have prosecuted 200 pill dealers in the past two years. The epicenter has been the southern coalfields, including Crum’s Mingo County.
The county’s anti-drug efforts, dubbed Operation Zero Tolerance, included members of the sheriff’s department, the Mingo County Drug Task Force, Williamson police and often officers from other community police departments.
Crum took over as sheriff in January, and one of the biggest drug busts occurred on Feb. 1, when Crum’s team made that early morning roundup. Along with many arrests often came the confiscation of guns and plenty of cash.
There also have been less publicized but often-made arrests of individual suspects based on tips from a fed-up public. Four people in Dingess. A few more in Gilbert, Red Jacket and North Matewan. Some in Williamson.
There have been several dozen arrests so far, although authorities were unable to provide details on the exact number of arrests and indictments under Crum’s watch. But all agreed his short tenure as sheriff made a dent in the problem.
“Eugene was our official spearhead on that. That was his podium,” said Dallas Toler, who took over Crum’s magistrate position. “He kept his word. He took his job to heart. This was his dream.”
Exactly one week before Crum’s death came another raid: A Kentucky couple suspected of stealing a television from a motel was charged with selling crack cocaine and hydrocodone from a home in East Williamson.
“I made a promise to the residents of this county that if they would elect me to the office of sheriff, I would concentrate on drug cases,” Crum once told the Williamson Daily News. “I have proudly kept my promise.”
Sometimes, residents who had witnessed the arrests came out of their homes to thank Crum and other members of their team.
“He worked day and night,” Toler said. “He was a go-getter. If I needed somebody at 2 o’clock in the morning, I could call him. He was right there. He was like a brother to me.
“If Eugene would have made it, he would have been the best sheriff this county had ever seen. I believe that in my heart.”
Friends said when Crum was shot, he was keeping an eye on a place that had been shut down for illegally dispensing prescription drugs to be sure it didn’t reopen.
The suspect, 37-year-old Tennis Melvin Maynard of Ragland, was shot and wounded by a sheriff’s deputy in a chase following the attack on Crum. Maynard remains hospitalized in Huntington.
However, Sparks said in a statement Saturday that there’s no substantial evidence at this time that Crum’s murder was drug-related and asked the public not to speculate on the motive. Sparks said investigations by the Williamson Police Department and West Virginia State Police are ongoing.
Toler has vowed to continue the community’s strong fight against illegal drugs. Crum’s widow, Rosie, has been appointed interim sheriff.
“We’re just going to keep doing what Eugene wanted us to do,” Toler said. “We’re going to clean our county up. Because this county’s our home.”