Grow lights

Staff photo by Eric DiNovo

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Sergeant D. M. Miller with the West Virginia State Police and Keith Bowling, retention facilitator at the Mercer County Technical and Education Center, load grow lights onto a flat bed truck. The equipment will be used in a greenhouse at the Mercer County Technical and Education Center.

PRINCETON — The officers of the Southern Regional Drug & Violent Crime Task Force rarely step into the spotlight, but when they do, there must be a very good cause.

Sgt. J.S. McCarty, of the West Virginia State Police, head of the local task force made up of officers from the West Virginia State Police, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the city police departments of Princeton and Bluefield and the county sheriff’s departments of Wyoming, McDowell and Mercer counties, said that a significant gift to the Mercer County Schools was worth surfacing if only for a morning.

“Back in December of 2013, we uncovered a major marijuana growing operation in a residence in Princeton,” McCarty said. “The people operating the house had a pretty sophisticated filtration and ventilation system and some very expensive equipment. Our officer was serving a warrant at the address, and when the front door opened, the smell of the marijuana was noticeable.”

As part of the convictions that came from the bust, the defendants forfeited the sophisticated grow lights, ventilation filters, air circulation and other equipment related in the operation. McCarty estimated the value of the equipment to be $85,000 to $95,000.

“Under normal circumstances, we would just destroy the equipment after it was no longer being used as evidence, but when I was discussing it with Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott ash, he asked me to contact Mercer County Schools to see if they would be interested in the equipment,” McCarty said. “Mr. Ash said that he thought the Mercer County Technical Education Center was considering building a greenhouse to expand their educational programs.”

McCarty said the State Police was able to store the high-tech greenhouse gear in a secure storage facility owned by the Princeton Rescue Squad. “I had several conversations with Dr. Steve Akers, director of MCTEC, and he put the plan in motion,” McCarty said. “I don’t know this for sure, but I would think it would be hard for a school system to purchase this kind of equipment.”

The Task Force destroyed the 96 plants they recovered in the bust — an amount of pot that had a $400,000 street value.

“After working with Mr. Ash and Dr. Akers, I brought it up with the board of directors of the task force, and they thought it was a good idea.”

Captain M.R. Crowder, Sergeants D. M. Miller and M.S. Haynes all of the State Police joined Stacey Hicks, chief executive officer of the Princeton Rescue Squad on Friday morning as staff from Mercer County Schools loaded the sophisticated gear from the warehouse and transported it to a secure location in control of the school system.

“This will benefit a lot of young ones in a good way,” Keith Worrell, assistant director of MCTEC said after loading the gear.

— Contact Bill Archer at

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