10/07/05 — An official eye in the sky

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An official eye in the sky

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on October 7, 2005 1:47 PM

The Raven is taking a bite out of marijuana production in Wayne County.

The Raven is not a big bird, but the Sheriff's Office helicopter.

Sheriff Carey Winders said since the helicopter was put in service in 1999, it has become a deterrent to marijuana production.

Sgt. Dan Peters of the Goldsboro-Wayne County Drug Squad thinks so, too.

"We used to find some every year," he said.

Marijuana leaves have a distinctive color and shape and can be spotted from the air. The plant grows in the summer sun and is harvested in the fall.

Sheriff's 1st Sgt. John Denny said the Raven flew a five-hour mission Aug. 10. Officers on the ground were ready to move in if spotters in the air saw anything, but they did not. Denny said the National Guard was supposed to accompany the helicopter but did not end up making the trip.

"Any time we go up, we're looking," Denny said. "We don't have a set schedule."

This summer, the Raven has flown nine times, from two to three hours, looking for marijuana. Denny said the helicopter is used to respond to tips about marijuana plants.

"With the price of jet fuel," he said, "we're conservative. We're not out joy-riding. When we get a tip, we want to make sure it's a good tip. We won't burn fuel for nothing."

The price of jet fuel now is almost $4 a gallon.

Winders explained that the Raven is not operated on county tax money.

The helicopter is piloted by Tom Parker, a part-time deputy and a full-time U.S. Army officer who has served with a specialized drug interdiction unit. Denny says Parker is an experienced drug spotter.

Peters explained that marijuana is not a local plant and its color and shape are different from anything else grown in the county.

The Drug Squad's biggest find was about 550 plants in two plots along both sides of Arrington Bridge Road near the Indian Springs Volunteer Fire Department. Each plant is worth an estimated $2,400 at maturity.

The Drug Squad has seven officers. Capt. Brady Thompson is in charge of four Goldsboro police officers, and Lt. Tom Effler is in charge of three Sheriff's officers. A State Bureau of Investigation special agent works with them.

The three-man Aggressive Criminal Enforcement, or ACE, Team from the Sheriff's Office also conducts undercover drug operations. The team is commanded by 1st Sgt. Chris Worth.