About 4:30 p.m. Oct. 20, an ambulance from a local volunteer rescue company came tearing down the rural road that runs through the small Fauquier County community of Turnbull.
As the ambulance rolled to a stop in front of a pair of ramshackle houses, its back doors opened and out leaped a half-dozen law enforcement agents, guns at the ready.
In quick succession, more than 50 other officers from six different agencies, accompanied by drug-sniffing dogs and a Virginia State Police helicopter, descended to execute search warrants at 8510 and 8506 Turnbull Rd., houses that Fauquier Sheriff Joe Higgs said were being used to facilitate a drug market.
Nine people were arrested that day on the scene, eight of whom were charged later with drug peddling. In the ensuing days, six others were arrested on drug charges, apprehended as part of a year-long undercover operation run by the Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Of the 14 held on drug charges, 10 face federal charges, and four face state charges that carry lesser penalties. All 14 made court appearances within the last week, and most of them were released on bond. All but one of those arrested are from Fauquier County.
If the raid was sudden, the appearance of drugs in the economically depressed Turnbull community, which is only a few miles away from the exclusive Fauquier Springs Country Club in the western part of the county, was not.
Interviews with residents and law enforcement personnel and court filings reveal a decade-long struggle with crack cocaine and an ambivalence about the police response, which included two similar raids in 1994 and 1996.
Some Turnbull residents, such as Evette Carter, welcomed the police presence.
"I think it was long overdue and appreciated," said Carter, 22. "It has gotten, from our perspective, really out of hand."
But in a tight-knit community where everybody knows everybody, others were concerned that the raid was out of proportion.
"Everybody knows there was a drug problem," said Olene Lewis, a Turnbull resident and an in-law of one of the people arrested in the latest raid. "But they targeted innocent people who they knew were not drug dealers."
According to Higgs, sheriff's Capt. Fred Pfeiff and a 17-page affidavit filed by a sheriff's deputy in U.S. District Court, the alleged drug operation in Turnbull was efficient, if not sophisticated. Information was gleaned using three undercover agents, Higgs said.
Sentinels at the top of the road would alert individuals to a potential buyer's presence through the flashing of porch lights, according to the affidavit. The vehicle then would pull up in front of the two houses, the affidavit said, and a "runner" would approach the prospective buyer. An order would be placed, and the runner would return with the crack cocaine, the affidavit said.
In many cases, residents and police said, little was done to conceal the drug sales. "They were blatant. They were arrogant," Higgs said.
According to the affidavit, the dealers often came out into the street with scales and weighed the crack cocaine.
Carter, a lifelong Turnbull resident with two small children, said that on a recent day before the raid, she was retrieving the mail at her grandmother's house near the alleged drug houses. A school bus was dropping off children nearby, she said, "and there was a man sitting right there in the road, with a big bag of the stuff, counting his crack out."
Wilmer B. Lewis, 24, of Marshall, known as "Peanut," and James Alexander Scott, 34, known as "Patches," allegedly were the kingpins of the operation. Kelvin Ray, a Fairfax man alleged to have been another higher-up in the organization, was arrested in July in connection with the months-long operation. Ray pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and, on Wednesday, was sentenced to 210 months in prison.
According to the affidavit, the drug runners were paid not in cash, but in crack.
Some residents wondered why such a show of force was used in the recent raid. "Nobody was getting any rich off this," said Agnes Collins, 60, whose house is at the top of a hill, overlooking the neighborhood of about two dozen homes. "Nobody got no new houses or cars or anything."
Thomas Yates, 67, a retired Fairfax County truck driver, said: "These people are sick. They need help."
His 31-year-old daughter, Tonia Leigh Yates, was among those arrested, and now he is looking after her five young children. He said he supported the police action ("They were doing their job, just like they were supposed to do"), but he said he thinks addicts rather than suppliers are bearing the brunt of the consequences.
Privately, some residents wondered whether the enforcement was related to race. Higgs strongly denied any racial connection, saying that "this department does not profile."
Although all of those arrested for drug distribution were black, he said, "most of the buyers were white." He said many of the buyers were stopped after leaving the Turnbull community and arrested on possession charges.
"I've lived out here forever. And true, maybe I've been stopped once or twice. I don't think it was racially motivated though," said Carter, who is black. "It doesn't bother me, the police being out here, at all. They could set up a booth at the end of the driveway, and it wouldn't bother me. If you live your life right, you don't have to worry about it."
Carter said her father was arrested in the 1996 raid on the Turnbull community and is due to be released in February from jail, where he has been serving time on a cocaine charge.
"Hopefully, when he gets out, we won't have to worry about this," she said.
Higgs was less sanguine about a solution to Turnbull's drug problem. "What you probably have is a temporary shutdown," he said. "This stuff never goes away."