By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – The county’s narcotics investigator continues to take the fight against drugs to the streets after returning to work following a near-death experience while on the job back in June.
Narcotics deputy Thomas West was off for a couple of weeks after he was shot on June 16 during an ambush while searching for a four-wheeler that had evaded authorities hours earlier. Although he was shot at close range with a shotgun, West miraculously only sustained minor injuries and remained engaged in a running gun fight as deputy Donald Wilson and Water Valley Police Officer Derrick Yancey ran to assist before two suspects were killed in the battle.
In August West has been the primary deputy in four felony drug arrests, arrests that were made in different areas of the county.
On August 1, Robert Ernest Ralston of Grenada was charged with possession of methamphetamine and resisting arrest following a traffic stop on Leonard Drive in Coffeeville. Sheriff Lance Humphreys reported that West initially determined that Ralston had an arrest warrant from the City of Grenada. During the traffic stop, the driver of the vehicle gave consent for her vehicle to be searched.
“While they were checking the vehicle, Ralston became combative and began fighting the officers,” Humphreys said about the incident.
“He tried to throw the drugs into the grass during the altercation,” West added.
Humphreys said West was assisted by deputy Jason Mangrum and a Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agent during the traffic stop.
Ralston picked up additional charges the next day while in custody at the Yalobusha County Detention Center after jailers smelled marijuana in the jail. Deputies and jailers entered the pod where Ralston was located and were engaged in a brief struggle before recovering marijuana and heroin that he allegedly sneaked into the facility a day earlier.
The additional charges included disorderly conduct and introduction of contraband into a correctional facility. Authorities suspect that he was able to bring the drugs into by hiding them in a body cavity.
“During his initial appearance in court, he thanked me for arresting him, he told me ‘I saved his life,’” West said about the unusual ordeal.
The next felony drug arrests were made on Thursday, August 24, after two men were arrested at a driver’s license checkpoint for possession of methamphetamine.
According to the sheriff, Robert Thomas and Timothy Thomas, no relation, came through the checkpoint on Hwy. 7, south of Coffeeville, around 1 a.m. Timothy Thomas was the driver and was unable to produce a driver’s license. He gave West consent to search his vehicle and methamphetamine was found hidden inside. Methamphetamine was also found in Robert Thomas’ pocket.
They were transported to the Yalobusha County Detention Center. At the time of the arrests, Robert Thomas was out on parole and Timothy Thomas was on probation.
“Their probation/parole officers were notified,” the sheriff stated.
The fourth felony arrest came Sunday night following a traffic stop on Main Street in Water Valley near Crawford Sports Complex. Gage Moss, a passenger in the vehicle was charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute after West discovered a quarter-ounce of the substance hidden inside a container inside a drink in the vehicle’s console.
“It was hidden inside a container inside the cup, it was on top of the ice,” West reported about the find. The driver gave consent for the search and was not charged in the incident after Moss admitted that the drugs belonged to him. Moss also had an arrest warrant from Oxford Police Department.
Humphreys said the arrests are part of the ongoing effort to curtail drugs in the county.
“It’s a never ending battle, but we have a great group of deputies who work hard,” the sheriff added.
Humphreys also said West, Wilson and Yancey will be recognized at a banquet on Sept. 16 for their heroic efforts on June 16.
“Law enforcement officers killed or injured in the line of duty is almost a daily occurrence on the national news and this incident shows it can happen at home,” Humphreys said about the shootout that ended with the deaths of Robert J. Berube, 41, and Jamie Dougan, 24, both of Missouri.
“As tough as it is to take a life, if it had not been for the heroic efforts of all three of these law enforcement officers, one or more of them would not have been able to return home to their families,” Humphreys added. “It’s just that simple.”
The families and friends of the officers have been invited to the banquet where all three men will be presented medals of valor for their actions.
The sheriff also said community support for the banquet has been strong.
“Obviously we can’t use tax dollars for this event so a lot of people have stepped up to make a donation so we can show these guys our appreciation,” Humphreys explained.
And while the battle against drugs continues, the sheriff also stressed that all of his deputies play a vital role in providing law enforcement in the county on a daily basis.
“As a narcotics officer West’s shift each day is geared toward drug enforcement,” Humphreys explained. “But every job out here is important, our deputies respond to call after call for assistance on a daily basis. And I can tell you, every time one of these guys answers a call their life can be in danger.”