Sunday, February 18, 2018
Public safety

Pasco deputies raid convenience stores selling Spice

HOLIDAY — Rhonda Swetland saw the cruisers surrounding the convenience store next door and started clapping.

"We were waiting for this to happen for a long, long time," said Swetland, who owns Kids' Stop-N-Play day care center. The convenience store next door, Pure Gas, at 5317 Mile Stretch Drive, was raided Thursday for allegedly selling synthetic marijuana, commonly known as Spice. Swetland said people loiter outside the store all day smoking, making the area unsafe for herself and the 75 children at her day care. Swetland said she's called the Sheriff's Office every day for weeks asking for help.

"We are happy," Swetland said after watching the store's owner, Basil Almanluk, being placed handcuffed in a cruiser and boxes of seized Spice packets being carted outside by deputies.

Pure Gas was one of 15 locations throughout the county hit Thursday by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in the agency's latest effort to wipe out the Spice market. Deputies had a list of 21 suspects. They arrested 14 on Thursday and continued to search for the remaining seven.

"They are killers, that's what they are," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said of those selling the synthetic drugs.

"They are killers in our community — they are killing families, they are killing kids."

In recent months, the Sheriff's Office has teamed up with the Drug Enforcement Administration to go after people manufacturing Spice, which is marketed as incense or plant food, is widely used as a narcotic, especially by teenagers. The drugs have been linked to delusional, violent behavior and, in some cases, permanent psychosis and deadly overdoses, authorities said.

Federal, state and local officials are working to regulate the drugs, sold legally in convenience stores, by banning some of the chemicals used. But some manufacturers simply drop a banned ingredient and replace it with a similar, but still legal, compound.

What the Sheriff's Office did Thursday was new: It doesn't matter if the banned chemicals were in the Spice packets being sold at these stores, authorities said. In the past few weeks, undercover detectives went to these stores and asked to buy something that would get them high and then these store clerks offered them Spice, usually brought out from a container kept behind the counter.

This is how the Sheriff's Office believes it can nab these sellers: By charging them with possessing and selling imitation controlled substances. The agency says these clerks sold something they told a consumer would get them high, when these drugs are not actually a controlled substance.

Nocco called it a "unique" approach to "pressure" store owners and employees.

"I would rather us go out there and attack the issue than keep saying there's nothing we can do about it," Nocco said. "We are going to keep finding a way to arrest these individuals."

In one video released by the agency, Shrenik D. Mode, a clerk at a Marathon station at 8549 Old County Road 54 in New Port Richey, told undercover agents that one brand of Spice is "like a bomb."

"This is like awesome," he said. "I'm dead serious, trust me."

Nocco said another clerk used a different sales tactic, saying, "I'm high on it right now!"

The attack on Spice began months ago, with deputies hand-delivering letters to businesses selling the synthetic drugs, asking them to discontinue selling it. The agency also began a sticker program praising stores that stopped selling the drugs.

Sheriff's Lt. Chuck Balderstone hopes that what happened Thursday is enough to end this.

"I pray that this push right here will convince these people not to sell this stuff and we can get this stuff off the streets," Balderstone said.

But, if it's not, "if they continue to sell it after this first wave," Balderstone said, "we'll be right back out again."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.


Pinellas Park man tries to stop people breaking into his car, is shot in arm

PINELLAS PARK — A man saw people trying to break into his vehicle and chased them away, before one of the attempted burglars shot him in the arm, police said.Alexander Weaver, 28, was at his home on the 6200 block of 106th Avenue N early Sunday morni...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Deputies: Woman charged with DUI manslaughter hit St. Pete Beach pedestrian

ST. PETE BEACH — Deputies say a driver killed a man walking on a sidewalk and fled the scene before causing a second crash Saturday night.Carolyn Yovan, 51 of St. Pete Beach, now faces felony charges of driving under the influence manslaughter and le...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Pinellas Sheriff’s Office accuses 14-year-old of copycat Snapchat school threat

Pinellas Sheriff’s Office accuses 14-year-old of copycat Snapchat school threat

PINELLAS PARK — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office late Saturday said detectives arrested a 14-year-old boy and accused him of posting a threat to a school on his Snapchat account.Edward Charles Osgood, who attends Lealman Innovation Academy, was a...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Man found dead in flaming mobile home

TAMPA — Firefighters found a man dead inside a burned-down mobile home Saturday.Tampa Fire Rescue got a call just after 4:30 p.m. that a single-wide mobile home at the 100 block of East Linebaugh Avenue was in flames.The man’s identity was not releas...
Published: 02/17/18
‘I’m going to watch you bleed’: Nikolas Cruz threatened ex’s new boyfriend, report says

‘I’m going to watch you bleed’: Nikolas Cruz threatened ex’s new boyfriend, report says

Warning: This story quotes graphic material.Before he killed 17 people at a South Florida high school, Nikolas Cruz repeatedly threatened an ex-classmate who had started dating his former girlfriend, according to a report in Buzzfeed News."I’m going ...
Published: 02/17/18

Police find dead man in Tampa apartment

TAMPA — Police found a dead man inside an apartment in the 5200 block of Sonora Court Friday after 3 p.m.Who the man is or how long he’s been dead is not yet clear, police said. The victim appears to have been killed in some sort of "homicidal violen...
Published: 02/17/18
Prosecutor: Death penalty was ‘designed’ for cases like Florida school shooting

Prosecutor: Death penalty was ‘designed’ for cases like Florida school shooting

The 17 counts of premeditated murder against Nikolas Cruz are the type of case "the death penalty was designed for," according to the Florida prosecutor in charge of trying the confessed school shooter.But Michael Satz, the longtime Broward state att...
Published: 02/17/18
Florida, angry and grieving, takes gun protest to streets

Florida, angry and grieving, takes gun protest to streets

PARKLAND, Fla. — Thousands of angry students, parents and residents demanded stricter gun control laws Saturday as new details were revealed about the suspect accused of shooting and killed 17 people in a Florida high school. The rally, held in downt...
Published: 02/17/18

Woman hit, killed Friday along Memorial Highway

TOWN ’N COUNTRY — A woman died after she was hit by a minivan along Memorial Highway on Friday night, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The 53-year-old woman, whose identity was not released, was trying to cross Memorial Highway f...
Published: 02/17/18
White nationalist appears to disavow connection with shooter

White nationalist appears to disavow connection with shooter

PARKLAND, Fla. — A white nationalist appears to have lied to The Associated Press and other news organizations when he claimed that Florida school-shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was a member of his obscure group.Law enforcement officials have said the...
Published: 02/17/18