Rangers Make Major Drug Bust; Break Middle Georgia Theft Ring

GON Staff | May 1, 2007

DNR Law Enforcement Cpl. John Stokes with two plastic-wrapped bales of marijuana confiscated in Ben Hill County.

Two recent enforcement cases made by Georgia DNR Law Enforcement Rangers underscore how varied their line of work is. Rangers recently made a major drug bust in Ben Hill County and shut down a significant theft operation in middle Georgia.

On March 18, DNR Law Enforcement Cpl. John Stokes was on patrol ahead of turkey season in Ben Hill County when he made what is reportedly the biggest single drug case in the county’s history.

“I was heading down to the Ocmulgee River on an old road off of Hwy 182,” said John. “When I was about halfway in, I came around a corner and about 80 or 100 yards ahead of me was a man in camouflage walking away from me. I started to just ease up behind him, he turned around and saw the truck and took off running.

“I drove up to where he had gone into the woods and ran him down. We had gone maybe 125 yards when he tripped and fell down.”

The individual had been carrying a camouflaged duffel bag, which he dropped when he fell.

“I told him to put his hands behind him so I could cuff him, but when I turned to look for my cuffs, he jumped up and ran. We ran another 100 yards or so before I could catch him,” said Cpl. Stokes.

This time, Cpl. Stokes tackled the man and successfully handcuffed him.

The man had good reason to run. When he had been secured, Cpl. Stokes recovered the duffel bag and found two bales containing 23 pounds of marijuana wrapped in plastic. The duffel bag also contained several 1-gallon Ziploc bags.

“I think what he was doing was going to hide his stash,” said Cpl. Stokes. “Then when someone came by his house to buy some dope, he would go back in the woods and get as much as they wanted.”

According to Cpl. Stokes, the individual, identified as Ralph K. Sumner of Fitzgerald, was already on probation for possession. He was turned over to the Georgia Drug Task Force and was scheduled to go before a magistrate on charges of trafficking and obstruction of an officer.

DNR rangers also recently broke a theft operation that was hitting middle Georgia lakes and hunting clubs.

On March 31, a lake-front property owner on Lake Sinclair saw someone on their dock and reported it. Ranger First Class Bubba Lynn Stanford went to the lake but found no suspect.

Ranger Chad Welch went by the Putnam County Sheriff’s office to pick up several incident reports about the rash of thefts taking place in the area.

“We looked at the incident reports, and it looked like every time he was hitting it was usually between midnight and 3 a.m. on the weekends,” said Ranger Welch. “Ranger Stanford and I decided to meet at 1 a.m. Sunday morning to get out on the lake.”

The first boat they stopped was at Airport Island near the Sinclair dam.

“The first boat we stopped turned out to be who we were looking for,” said Ranger Welch. “He had his 14-year-old and his 16-year-old in the boat with him, both fully dressed in camouflage, and they were in a camouflaged boat. They were about 30 minutes from where they had put in, supposedly to go fishing, and they had only two fishing poles for three of them. They had two big tool boxes and a 36-inch long set of bolt cutters in the boat.”

The adult was Joel Arnett of Upper River Road in Jones County.

This room full of stolen fishing gear, deer stands, tools, etc. was confiscated from the property of Joel Arnett in Jones County.

“They claimed to be catfishing, but they didn’t even have a tackle box,” said RFC Stanford. “It didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out they weren’t on the lake to fish.”

Arnett was cited for having insufficient personal-flotation devices (PDF) and released — with a loaned PDF — but the rangers radioed the Putnam County Sheriff’s department to meet Arnett at the ramp, where he was confronted about the thefts. Arnett denied any violation and invited them to inspect his property in Jones County.

When Arnett’s property was searched the next day, officers found nine four-wheelers, four boats, eight outboard motors, eight firearms, 40 deer stands, several compound bows, 150 fishing rods, numerous tackle boxes, more than 100 gas cans, construction tools, and a large amount of hunting, camping and fishing equipment. By Monday afternoon, the investigation confirmed that some of the items had been stolen.

Arnett, meanwhile, went on the run and was not picked up until several days later.

“Many of these stands are believed to have been stolen on Piedmont Refuge during the deer hunts,” said RFC Stanford. “I imagine some of them were taken from hunting camps and out of the beds of pickup trucks also. A few of the stands, as well as some of the other equipment, do have names or initials on them.”

If you have been the victim of a theft and have an incident report from local authorities listing items that were stolen, contact the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department at (478) 986-3489.

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