Law enforcement officials from across Rome and Floyd County lined up on Wheeler Street to watch as a “blight to the community” was torn down and to let drug dealers know there is zero tolerance for drug peddling.
“It should be seen as a shot over the bow,” Floyd County Police Chief Mark Wallace said. “Take notice that we are watching and we might end up on your doorstep.”
Just after 10 a.m. on Wednesday, city crews toppled 216 E. 20th St., also known as the “7 UP House,” which according to police, was a local opium den. It was once an old grocery store but more recently allowed a place for drug users to stay and lay low.
The demolition came about from a lengthy investigation by the Rome-Floyd Metro Task Force, Rome Assistant Police Chief Debbie Burnett said. Not only was the home a blight to the neighborhood, she added, but it was being used for illegal activities.
“The Rome Police Department has a commitment to the community to take action and help them with quality of life issues as much as we can,” Burnett said. “This is a good example of the local agencies working together to accomplish the overall mission.”
“It’s a trap house,” District Attorney Leigh Patterson said. “It was used to sell drugs, people have gone into it to use drugs, it is just a terrible blight in this neighborhood.”
Patterson said the house was a symptom of the opioid crisis facing the nation as well as Rome. The district attorney added that local law enforcement has been administering more naloxone — normally known by its brand name narcan — than ever before.
Maj. Jeff Jones, commander of the Floyd County police investigative division, reported police and rescue personnel have administered 421 doses of naloxone to revive overdosed patients this year. Sgt. Chris Fincher, also with Floyd County police, confirmed this, saying that since 2017 there have been 58 opioid-related deaths. The number is slowly rising on a year-by-year basis, he said.
“It is time for the dealers to be held responsible,” Fincher said. “This is the first step in that.”
Wallace said there have been two undercover drug stings, 12 arrests and one drug overdose at the house in the past few years.
Neighbor Amelia Woodard was glad to see the building go. She said the house had a bad reputation and police would come by constantly.
“I’m not happy, I’m excited it’s gone,” Woodard exclaimed while videoing the demolition.
The structure had been condemned by the Rome-Floyd County Building Inspection Department after several complaints from neighbors and law enforcement, Glen Rubin from the department said.
“It’s a process,” Rubin said. “There are steps and paperwork that has to be filled out.”
The owner of the property, Terry Busby, was himself arrested and charged with alleged possession of methamphetamine on Feb. 21 following the execution of a search warrant. Assistant City Attorney Samuel Lucas filed a complaint on behalf of the City of Rome five days after the arrest.
City building inspectors listed 25 code violations in documents leading to the condemnation of the structure. Busby was told he could not reenter the house without written permission of city building inspectors. Rome Police Chief Denise Downer-McKinney said there was no water or power hooked up to the house.
Before it was condemned and demolished it was known as the “7 UP House,” due to an old painted advertisement on the side of the building. Fincher said the East 20th Street house was once a store, and the ad became synonymous with drugs after it was converted to a house.
The demolition of the house was used as a backdrop for U.S. Attorneys to reveal a formerly sealed indictment against Shane Terhune, an individual who allegedly sold a heroine concoction to someone living in Floyd County. The reason Terhune is charged with a federal crime is because the buyer of the drugs overdosed and died. If convicted, Terhune will be sentenced to life in prison.
Neither Terhune nor the victim saw the inside of 216 E. 20th St. as far as law enforcement knows. The indictment and demolition was meant as a warning to drug dealers from local, state and federal law enforcement.
“To the people who are peddling this poison, justice will catch up to you,” U.S. Attorney BJay Pak said.
Pak added the opioid and heroine epidemic is not the only problem facing local communities. Drug trafficking in general is a major problem. Meth is a larger problem but this also highlights the need for all law enforcement to really come together and focus efforts on battling addiction, he said.
Demolition of the house was handled by the City of Rome Public Works department, which blocked off Wheeler Street in order to move their heavy machinery. Thomas Eaves, who was operating the track hoe, said the lot would be clear by Thursday evening.
“I could do it in 15-20 minutes if we weren’t filming,” he said. “But I guess we got to take it slow.”