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Neighborhood ruckus

Crime Scene Investigators examine evidence Wednesday evening at the scene of an undercover drug purchase that sent one man to the hospital. (WDN Photo/ Mona Moore)

Drug bust Heimlich causes stir on Van Norden street

An interrupted drug deal and a failed attempt to swallow the evidence led to the hospitalization of one man and the arrest of three others Wednesday night, according to law-enforcement officials.

According to a press release from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, the incident happened near the intersection of Van Norden and Fifth streets in Washington — investigators witnessing an alleged drug deal between Keith Maurice Small and another man, then Small swallowing what appeared to be drugs as the officers approached his parked SUV. Small resisted arrest, but it was when he began choking and the sheriff’s deputies pulled him from the vehicle to administer aid that a crowd gathered, according to authorities.

Witness confusion about the officers’ actions was likely the cause for what happened next, said Maj. Sandy Blizzard with the Washington Police Department.

“Law enforcement typically doesn’t share information with bystanders,” said Blizzard. “Not knowing what truly transpired, people start speculating and not knowing the full truth caused some frustration. … When they were told to disperse they decided to take out their frustration.”

That frustration led to Washington residents taking to the streets. Blizzard said a group of 20 to 30 people roved several blocks of the neighborhood, from Gladden to Washington streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to 13th Street, uprooting stop signs, turning over trash cans and setting a trash bin on fire. On Third Street, bottles and rocks broke two windows at Mitchell Tractor and Equipment Co. and Jake’s CB Station across Bridge Street.

Police arrested Rodney Lamont Allbritton Jr., 23, Derrick Chavis, 31, and Taeisha Monique Koroma, 28. Allbritton was charged with public disturbance; Chavis with impeding traffic and carrying a concealed weapon; and Koroma with disorderly conduct.

Blizzard said the damage done could have been avoided, but he wouldn’t characterize the disturbance as a riot. He encouraged residents, in the future, to reach out through the proper channels to clear up speculation.

“Get with your community leaders. Get them to contact us,” advised Blizzard. “We’ll tell them what’s going on.”

The sheriff’s office’s Drug Unit investigators’ actions, which one witness described as “hitting his back,” as they attempted to dislodge the swallowed bags, likely saved Small’s life, according to law-enforcement officials. Small was airlifted from Vidant Beaufort Hospital to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville on Wednesday night.

While back blows were once thought to potentially lodge an obstruction deeper into a choking victim’s airway, it is no longer the case. The American Red Cross’ recommended protocol for assisting choking victims is to alternate five back blows with five abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) until the blockage is dislodged. Back blows are delivered by striking the heel of the hand between the person’s shoulder blades.