Police, DA: Suspects trafficked heroin along Interstate 80

CLARION — More than a year of investigations culminated Friday when Clarion County District Attorney Mark Aaron announced the arrest of 11 alleged heroin dealers.

The investigation involved anonymous informants, Clarion Borough Police, the Clarion Heroin Task Force, the Youngstown (Ohio) Police and the Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Crime Task Force.

Six of the alleged dealers are Clarion-area natives: Krystal Clark, Rimersburg; Nicholas Beichner, Rimersburg; Marla Forbes, Leeper; Sara Kirkpatrick, Leeper; Barry Beichner, Kossuth; and Thomas Novak, Marienville.

Two other alleged traffickers — Robert Thurston and Michael Ratliff — are originally from Youngstown, but were living in Shippenville and Leeper, respectively.

“Thurston and Ratliff were acting as middlemen,” Aaron said. “They actually moved to the Clarion area and used their Youngstown connections to sell heroin.”

Arresting the “middlemen” led the law enforcement agencies to three Youngstown individuals who were “higher up the chain,” Aaron said. Those individuals were Terrance Rushton, Jawonn Hymes and Michelle Burkes, all of Youngstown.

“I would call these individuals large suppliers of the Youngstown area,” Aaron said.

Aaron said the arrests are a step in the right direction toward limiting the supply of heroin to the area, and come following a shift in drug trafficking.

“All heroin in Clarion County is imported into the county from other locations,” he said. “Within the last 20 months, we have seen a significant change in the heroin traffic patterns.”

He said in the past, heroin was typically transported from Pittsburgh to Clarion, but now Interstate 80 from Youngstown to Clarion “seems to be the preferred route.”

Dealers will travel from Clarion to Youngstown on average twice a day, and each trip, they will buy about 50 stamp bags. A stamp bag is the equivalent of one dose, Aaron said.

He said the arrests will make it known that the “preferred route” is being watched by law enforcement.

“Hopefully, the street-level dealers in the area realize that this is dangerous, that we are aware, and that we are paying attention,” Aaron said. “Hopefully, those people in Youngstown that are pumping heroin into the area know that we are watching them.”

Aaron acknowledged that heroin, a drug that was “almost non-existent in the area 10 years ago,” will likely not be eliminated because of these arrests. However, it is progress toward that end.

“We believe that by eliminating this organization, we have at least temporarily reduced the amount of heroin available on the streets,” he said. “We believe this was very successful in pinching that pipeline into Clarion.”

Aaron said many local communities are facing the same drug problems as Clarion, and he said the majority of heroin activity involved local individuals, rather than students are at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

“We not going to say there is no heroin in Clarion University, but primarily, the people that we are seeing are people in the community that have no affiliation with the college,” he said.