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Safe search comes up empty

Riding on board a Portsmouth, Va. Police boat, a Southampton County Sheriff’s deputy drops a rope into the Meherrin River for use as a guide line for three divers searching for evidence in a two-state spree.

MURFREESBORO – Battling dark, murky waters cluttered with debris below the surface, a dive team from Southampton County, Va. failed to find a piece of evidence here Wednesday connected with the March arrests of numerous individuals on B&E and arson charges.

Four divers from the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office were joined by two lawmen from the Portsmouth, Va. Police Department operating a sonar device from a boat operating beneath the Mayor Billy Hill Bridge (US 258) that spans the Meherrin River.

The Virginia-based law enforcement officers searched the river on a request from Murfreesboro Police Chief Darrell Rowe and Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan. The search stemmed from information received from one of the five individuals arrested following an alleged crime spree that involved at least 19 robberies and five cases of arson in two states.

The sonar “hit” on two items on the river bottom; divers were sent down to search. The dark water beneath the surface produced zero visibility in some spots. The divers also encountered numerous fallen trees and limbs, making their search area tougher to navigate.

“As we continued the investigation into this series of crimes, one the suspects shared information concerning that an item stolen in Southampton County was thrown in the river from this bridge,” Sheriff Vaughan said while watching the divers from the shore.

In particular, the Sheriff stated the search centered on a home safe, stolen from the residence of Leon Bolton of Burnt Reed Road in Boykins, Va. After stealing several items from the Bolton residence, the suspects burned the home to the ground.

“It’s a slow search with the water the way it is today,” Sheriff Vaughan said. “About all the divers can do is feel around.”

“We really appreciate the help of the Southampton deputies and the Portsmouth Police,” Chief Rowe said. “We’ve always enjoyed a great working relationship with our fellow officers just over the state line. That type of cooperation has helped all of us solve many crimes.”

Those charged, to date, include:

Lionel A. Walden, 21, Conway; he faces 23 charges, most felony counts, to include breaking-and-entering (B&E), larceny of firearms (9 counts), possession of firearms (4 counts) and possession of a firearm by a felon. His bond was set at $1.3 million.

Antonio L. Holley, 22, of Mapleton Road, Murfreesboro; charged with possession of stolen firearms (4 counts) and possession of a firearm by a felon. Bond was set at $275,000.

Darrin O. Deloatch, 21, of Mapleton Road, Murfreesboro; charged with possession of stolen firearms (4 counts), possession of stolen property (2 counts), felony conspiracy, obtaining property by false pretense and possession of a firearm by a felon. His bond was $575,000. He also faces a felony fugitive warrant in Virginia.

Gennile M. Barber, 33, of East Main Street, Murfreesboro; charged with possession of stolen firearms (4 counts). Her bond is $200,000.

Those four were all arrested at a residence located at 1200 East Main Street, Murfreesboro. That residence was one of five searched by law enforcement officers in late March (two in Murfreesboro; three in Mapleton). Numerous items were seized and cataloged for evidence. Rowe said due to the high number of B&E/larceny cases, several victims were contacted and arrived in Murfreesboro on the day following the arrests in an effort to identify the personal property.

Some of the recovered items included shotguns, rifles, pistols, TV’s, computers, cell phones, DVD/CD players, jewelry, rods-and-reels, fishing tackle boxes, printers, cell phones, an ATV and silver coins and bars.

A fifth suspect, 22-year-old Japree Lortez Brooks of 122 Spring Branch Road, Murfreesboro, later turned himself in.

To date, only Holley and Barber have posted bond.

Charges were filed by the Hertford, Bertie, Northampton and Southampton County sheriff offices, to include arson, breaking and entering and larceny. Arson cases were investigated at the historic Harrington Lodge near Lewiston-Woodville, a residence at the Rhodes community (also in Bertie County), at a pair of dwellings in Hertford County (Beaver Dam Road and Log Cabin Road) and in Boykins, Va.

In Hertford County alone, the suspects are believed to be connected with 15 breaking and entering and larceny cases since November of last year. Sheriff Vaughan said such crimes were committed at dwellings on Beaver Dam Road (2 cases), Mt. Moriah Road (3 cases), St. John-Menola Road (2 cases), Vaughantown Road, Buena Vista Road, NC 461, Lewter Farm Road, NC 561 West, Woodrow School Road, Ebo Road and Log Cabin Road.

The Hertford County crimes also include two cases of arson (dwellings on Beaver Dam Road and Log Cabin Road).

In Bertie County, Deloatch was charged with 35 felonies, to include larceny of a firearm (21 counts), B&E (3 counts), larceny after B&E (5 counts), 2nd degree burglary (3 counts), 2nd degree arson (2 counts) and safecracking (1 count) as well as injury to real property, a misdemeanor.

Walden and Brooks were charged with the same in Bertie, less one count of 2nd degree burglary.

Deloatch and Brooks are charged with felony breaking and entering, felony larceny after breaking and entering and felony possession of stolen property in Northampton County.

Trail dates are pending for each suspect.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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