Two Rowan County natives implicated in Cherokee opioid investigation

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 29, 2018

By Rebecca Rider

ASHEVILLE — Two Rowan County natives face charges in connection with a federal drug-trafficking investigation.

Authorities arrested 76 people in and near Asheville and on Cherokee Indian tribal lands.

Timothy McCain, 30, and Carsen Elizabeth Byrd, 25, of Rowan County, were among those charged.

The charges were announced at a news conference Thursday.

According to officials, the investigation was part of President Donald Trump’s opioid task force. Investigating agencies included the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; Department of the Interior; N.C. State Bureau of Investigation; sheriff’s offices in Swain, Jackson, Buncombe, Henderson and Rutherford counties; N.C. Highway Patrol; and tribal police.

“The scope and size of this investigation is indicative of the crisis we’re facing with heroin and opioids, methamphetamine, in our community,” said William Baxley, assistant special agent with the DEA.

Baxley said heroin and opioid use was once relegated to the inner city and large metropolitan areas, but not anymore.

“It crosses all strata of social, geographic locations,” Baxley said.

Indian communities have been hard hit by the effects of opioid use, he said. Officials said the arrests will hopefully serve as a warning that tribal communities will not tolerate opioid trafficking.

“The numbers are staggering, the impact is real, and the time for talk is over. … It’s time now for action,” said Bill Stetzer of the the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“The message is clear: Indian country is off limits to drugs,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “We will find you, we will hunt you down, we will prosecute you.”

Twelve of those arrested face federal charges. The remainder face state, local or tribal charges.

Law enforcement officials said those arrested include a mix of people who live on the Eastern Band of Cherokee reservation and outsiders, according to the Associated Press. They said larger suppliers typically come from outside the area and work with local dealers.

The Eastern Band of Cherokees has nearly 16,000 enrolled members, more than half of whom live on the tribe’s 56,000-acre reservation in western North Carolina, according to its tribal enrollment office. The reservation, known as Qualla Boundary, is west of Asheville near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The investigation, which began in March, resulted in the seizure of more than 248 pounds of drugs with a street value of more than $2 million.

This was the eighth major opioid investigation undertaken by the Department of the Interior since Trump proclaimed a national opioid crisis.

“We’re going to continue this until the war is won,” Zinke said.

McCain will face state charges in Buncombe County. He is accused of two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon.
McCain has previously been charged in Rowan County with attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon, felony breaking and entering, and assault.

Byrd will face state charges in Jackson County.

She is accused of conspiracy to sell and deliver heroin and fentanyl.

Byrd has previously been charged in Rowan County with larceny by servant or employee and obtaining property by false pretenses.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.