Mon. Feb 26th, 2024

The Tyrone Borough Police Department served an arrest warrant at the perfect time yesterday morning.
While serving a warrant at the Brian Dean residence on Washington Avenue, police identified a 22-year-old New York man believed to be a major drug trafficker in the area.
“We found heroin in plain view when we went in, then we found a man who identified himself as Haseem Jones,” said Police Chief Joe Beachem this morning. “He turned out to be Damien Webster from New York, and in his possession we found just under $400 in cash and 133 individually wrapped packages of marijuana.”
According to Beachem, Webster’s information was logged into the computer and officers learned he was wanted on felony warrants issued from the state of New York.
“I think this is a real significant arrest in our continued attempts to get the drugs off the streets of Tyrone,” said Beachem. “We had some intelligence that this guy was coming in, but we didn’t have him identified. It just happened to work out real nicely for us.”
Beachem believed Webster was traveling to Tyrone via train from New York City. He said the defendant was making “frequent” trips and selling a “pretty good” quantity of controlled substances here in Tyrone.
“It became evident after talking with him for awhile that he had already sold upwards of 100 packets of the marijuana and the drugs we found on him was what he had left,” said Beachem. “We believe he was bringing a lot in, but he won’t be any longer.”
Beachem said Webster is currently lodged in the Blair County Prison in lieu of $100,000 bond.
The arrest stems from a warrant that was issued along with more than 60 others yesterday morning by the Blair County Drug Task Force. Beachem said there wasn’t a specific warrant issued for Webster.
Warrants, however, were issued for Dean, 18, and Jason Neil, 21, of Columbia Avenue. Both were apprehended yesterday and processed at the United firehall in Altoona where BCDTF members established its headquarters. Dean was charged with three counts each of delivery and possession of heroin and criminal conspiracy. Neil was charged with delivery and possession of cocaine.
Blair County District Attorney David Gorman made the announcement of the arrests hours after officers began the sting operation at 6 a.m..
“We believe the majority of the people arrested today are ‘street-level’ dealers,” said Gorman, “but as we’ve seen in the past, street-level dealers have led us to the major distributors.
“And we promise there will be additional arrests in the future.”
According to Gorman, the raid yesterday was the result of a four-month investigation by the Blair County Drug Task Force, which utilized investigative techniques such as electronic surveillance, undercover officers, use of criminal informants and search warrants. More than 100 law enforcement officers were used in the raid, and approximately $10,000 worth of heroin and $5,000 in cash, believed to be the result of heroin trafficking, was seized.
“This particular raid illustrates the on-going commitment that my office and the office of the Attorney General has to identify, arrest and prosecute those subjects who continue to deliver, sell and traffic controlled substances in Blair County,” said Gorman. “We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, things won’t stop here. We’re going to continue to make raids such as this one – all in an effort to free Blair County streets of this poison.”
According to Randy Feathers, an agent of the Attorney General Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control, most of the heroin continues to come from the Philadelphia area, but indications that cheaper, and less potent, drugs from Pittsburgh may also be flowing into the area.
“This is definitely our number one drug problem and one of the problems that we’re having with it is that it’s not all coming from one source,” said Feathers. “In the past, we’ve taken off some of the major organizations and what has happened is that the smaller organizations have moved upwards. Heroin users tend not to be loyal to any particular dealer. They take whatever they can from any user that has the product available.”
According to Feathers, the drugs that are now coming into Blair County are far more potent than the heroin that was used in the area in the 1960s.
“When heroin started making a comeback here, some users decided they didn’t want to inject it,” said Feathers. “That’s when we saw concentration levels of the drug being brought up to about the 90 percent range, whereas in the 60s, it was in the four to ten percent level.
“Then, users had to shoot it to retrieve its effects,” he continued. “Now, it’s so strong that a lot of people are smoking or snorting it. Regardless of the way it’s used, it’s a dangerous drug that has killed a number of its users here in Blair County.”
In 2002, the Blair County Coroner’s Office reported that 13 deaths were the result of drug overdoses.
“Our overdose rate has gone down over the past three years,” said Feathers. “We’re averaging about 1.5 deaths per month now, and a lot of the reasons for that is because of the tolerance level of users now and the potency of the drug.”
Remarkably, Feathers said users are seeking the drug “brand” that has already killed someone because of its potency.
“If we put out to the news media that we have someone who overdosed on a specific type of heroin that was stamped in a certain way, the next thing we see in Philly is an influx of people from Blair County looking for that type of heroin,” he said, “because they think it’s the purest heroin around.”
Gorman said not to downplay the decrease in death statistic caused by the drug in 2002.
“When we look at the big picture, we find that less people are dying from overdoses,” said Gorman. “But we don’t have the statistics that show how many people were treated for overdoses during that year. The numbers would be in the thousands.”
Yesterday’s operation was conducted by the Blair County Drug Task Force, which is comprised of officers from each and every law enforcement office in Blair County. The task force is sponsored by the state Attorney General’s office and it uses local law enforcement officers to seek out, investigate and prosecute drug cases and the sale and distribution of controlled substances in Blair County.
Forty-two arrests were made yesterday morning, including two juveniles. There were also 22 additional arrest warrants ordered. The defendants will be arraigned before district magistrates Todd Kelly and Ken Garman.
According to authorities, the majority of the arrests were heroin-related, but other controlled substances noted in the raid included crack cocaine, OxyContin, Loritabs, Vicodin, Roxicet, Ritalin and Ultracet. Also, an Altoona man was arrested for forging a prescription, an Altoona woman was arrested for criminal use of a communication facility and another Altoona man was arrested for selling a “look-a-like” drug to a confidential police informant.
Two of the defendants were described as “mid-level” dealers.
Albert Weyandt of 613 Tenth St., Altoona, was charged with possession with intent to distribute, possession of a controlled substance, firearms to be carried without a license, receiving stolen property, endangering the welfare of children and possession of drug paraphernalia. William Cooper of 1317 Third St., Altoona, was charged with delivery and possession of heroin and criminal conspiracy. Both were arrested Tuesday.

By Rick