WHEELING - In the past, those on the run from law enforcement in the Ohio Valley could help their chances of evading capture by crossing the Ohio River, but now, the Mountain State Fugitive Task Force is increasing its presence on both sides of the river to bring outlaws to justice.
Formed by the United States Marshal Service in January 2007, the Mountain State Fugitive Task Force tracks down only suspects wanted for violent offenses. The Mountain State Task Force also has offices in Martinsburg and Clarksburg, and there are similar task forces throughout the United States.
Since additional local officers were deputized as members of the task force last week, the agency now has about 20 agents, including sheriff's deputies from Jefferson, Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler counties, as well as officers from Wheeling, Moundsville, Bellaire and Martins Ferry police departments and West Virginia State Police troopers.
From left, Ohio County Sheriff’s Deputy Kris Waechter, Chief Deputy Drage Flick, Sheriff Pat Butler, Deputy U.S. Marshals Gary Gaskins, Alex Neville and Chad Simpson are pictured at Wheeling’s Heritage Port. The U.S. Marshals presented a new vehicle to the sheriff’s department for its service as members of the Mountain State Fugitive Task Force.
"The task force has been growing and growing and our fugitive arrest stats have almost doubled each year," said Deputy U.S. Marshal Chad Simpson, who has spent three of his nine years with the Marshals Service in the Ohio Valley. "And more departments are reaching out and referring a lot more cases to us, and we concentrate on those violent offenders to arrest these guys as quickly as possible."
Last year, the task force arrested nearly 1,500 suspects and seized 10-15 firearms and approximately $80,000 made from illegal activity.
If the task force uncovers other crimes while apprehending wanted fugitives, those cases are referred to local law enforcement.
In addition to adding five new agents last week, the task force donated a valuable piece of equipment to one of its member agencies. The Ohio County Sheriff's Department received a 2013 Ford pickup truck.
The vehicle is primarily to be used by Sheriff's Deputy Kris Waechter during his work with the task force, but also can be used for other law enforcement duties.
The truck cost $35,000, and the sheriff's department was granted another $5,000 to outfit it with law enforcement equipment. It was paid for with money seized from defendants in criminal proceedings and was one of 60 vehicles gifted by the Marshals Service to law enforcement departments nationwide.
Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler said it is most important to have one of his deputies assigned to the task force to remove violent offenders from the public, but he also applauded the cooperative spirit between local departments.
He also said the department was honored to be one of those nationwide selected to receive a vehicle from the Marshals Service.
United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II said the task force plays a vital role in the Ohio Valley, where for fugitives can cross state lines effortlessly. He also commented on the importance of the task force's mission of tracking down violent offenders, saying those fugitives pose the most danger to the public.
"Those are the type of people we need to get off the street before anyone else," Ihlenfeld said. "Criminals who are violent are at the top of the list of people that need to be brought to justice."