Crack cocaine huge problem in Quinte West

By Jack Le Blanc, Special to The Intelligencer
Local News - Wednesday, September 29, 2004 @ 10:00

Quinte West is a crack cocaine “hot spot in eastern Ontario,” says a senior police official.

And the drug is responsible for some of the most serious crimes committed in the community, Det. Sgt. Pat Finnegan told the Quinte West police services board earlier this week.

“Crack cocaine is a huge problem,” Finnegan said. “If there’s a hot spot in eastern Ontario for crack cocaine, it appears to be our fair city. You can (ignore the problem and) live in your own little bubble and go from place to place and that’s great.”

But, Finnegan said there’s no particular reason for crack cocaine’s popularity in the Quinte area.

“They don’t have a prevalence of crack cocaine in Kingston, for example. It’s not the drug of choice there,” he said. “Most of the distribution (of crack cocaine) is from Toronto, and there’s a market for it here. About $40 will buy .03 g or a forty-piece as it’s known, which is a single use. A high lasts 20 to 30 minutes, and it’s (crack cocaine) extremely easy to conceal.”

Finnegan laid blame for “property crimes and most of the personal crimes” at crack cocaine’s door. Finnegan’s observations echo those expressed in the local courts. Federal prosecutor Pat Hurley describes crack cocaine as the “scourge of the community.”

A Durham man living in Trenton was recently convicted for the fourth time for trafficking in crack cocaine. Superior Court Justice Robert J. Smith sentenced Hedley Thomas, 29, of Durham, to two years less one day in jail at the conclusion of his trial on crack cocaine charges.

Police found seven grams of crack cocaine lodged in Thomas’ buttocks after raiding his Catherine Street apartment in Trenton.

A conviction carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Hurley noted crack cocaine is highly addictive, and “the most lucrative kind of drug” to sell “without caring in any way about the harm it causes.” Hurley said “crack cocaine, even in very small quantities, and even at the street level dealer, can expect a stiff (jail) sentence.

Quinte West OPP formed a break and enter squad — the BEAT Team — to solve a rash of drug-related crimes. One of their biggest arrests resulted in a three-year sentence for Lawrence Blanchard, who pleaded guilty to nearly 300 break and enters to support a crack cocaine habit.

Blanchard — described by assistant Crown attorney Mark Pettey as a professional in break and enter tactics and “successful because of guile and strength” — carried out a break and enter spree from Napanee to Quinte West, north to Tweed and south into Prince Edward County.

Blanchard, who has an “extensive criminal record including federal penitentiary time, admitted to breaking into everything from churches in Tweed — the Salvation Army and the local Catholic church, where he took $500 in cash and between $50 and $150 in ‘milk money,’ respectively — to Justice Stephen Hunter’s chambers at the Ontario Court of Justice building in Belleville.

“They (crack cocaine addicts) are nothing and they will never own anything, and so they knock over a kid on a bike ... that’s what you stoop to (as a crack cocaine addict),” Finnegan told the Quinte West police services board this week.

Crack cocaine may have been behind a daylight robbery of a 15-year-old who was knocked off his bicycle in a conservation area by two men who broke his glasses, ripped his shirt and took $5, he said.

“Project Longarm is the only way we’ll combat this (crack cocaine problem),” Finnegan said of a multi-police service drug task force which has seized over $10 million in illegal drugs, $13,000 in cash and $171,000 in stolen property this year alone.

Other serious crimes committed that may have been drug related include an Aug. 17 stabbing — since solved — involving two Hamilton men on their way to Quinte West.

“They were high on cocaine and had been drinking heavily,” a Quinte West OPP crime unit report says. “While en route to a friend’s apartment they got into an argument and the passenger (in the back seat) pulled out a knife and stabbed the driver twice.

“They then traded places and the accused drove the victim to the (Trenton) hospital, dropped him off and returned to the Hamilton area,” the report says.