Tracking device helps nab poachers

By Joe Beck

WOODSTOCK — Law enforcement officials used new technology in a painstaking investigation that led to more than a hundred hunting and wildlife violations against three men, two of whom must pay hundreds of dollars in fines and other costs after their sentencings.

One man, Jamie Aaron Wilson, 32, of Quicksburg, was fined $1,000 in Shenandoah County General District Court and ordered to pay another $500 to a state fund used to repay the cost of replacing animals killed as a result of illegal hunting or related violations. Judge Amy Tisinger also imposed two six-month jail sentences, both of them suspended, on Wilson. The sentence also included two years unsupervised probation, several suspended $50 fines and loss of hunting privileges for five years.

Another defendant, Christopher Richard Latshaw, 47, of Mount Jackson, was fined $500, ordered to pay $500 to the state replacement fund and sentenced to one year unsupervised probation. Latshaw’s sentence also included several suspended $50 fines.

The list of charges against Wilson, Latshaw and a third defendant, Matthew Barb, 28, of Edinburg, include spotlighting and killing deer, shooting from the road, hunting from a vehicle, failing to tag and check deer, continuing to hunt after obtaining the season limit for deer, borrowing another person’s hunting license, illegal transport and possession of deer and exceeding the season bag limit for deer.

The case against Barb is scheduled for another hearing at 10:45 a.m. Oct. 24.

The defendants “quietly killed well over 30 deer from the roadways of Shenandoah County using a tiny LED flashlight, crossbow and high powered pellet rifle,” according to a newsletter from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Owen Heine, a conservation police officer, a position formerly known as a game warden, and other officials with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said the case involved months of following the defendants’ activities with an electronic device planted on Wilson’s truck at 1:30 a.m. Dec. 1. The device remained on the truck until Heine removed it at 3:15 a.m. Feb. 28.

“It was very time consuming, but it was well worth it,” Heine said in an interview Tuesday. “You’ve got to catch those people in those conditions, and we were doing that, and that’s what brought the case together.”

The state newsletter described two months of “freezing temperatures, sleepless nights, spotlight and surveillance operations” as part of the investigation. The newsletter also listed “covert vehicles, drop offs, video cameras, night vision, a thermal imager and countless man-hours” that contributed to the arrest of the three defendants.

Heine obtained a search warrant before placing the tracking device on Wilson’s truck and continued to file 30-day extensions for its use through the Commonwealth’s Attorney office.

Heine wrote in a criminal complaint that citizen reports of poaching, begun during the 2011-2012 deer season and continuing into October and November of 2013, triggered the investigation.

Heine said the investigation marked the first time he had used an electronic tracking device in his job.

Heine said department leaders informed field officers of the availability of the tracking device late last year. The news came after repeated complaints about the activities of Wilson and Latshaw.

“Obviously, we’re not going to catch them through standard practice,” Heine said. “It was obvious we were going to be able to use the [tracking] device to try and make this case.”

Heine said those who report poaching to law enforcement officials should not be discouraged if they don’t hear of any immediate arrests.

“These cases take time to put together,” Heine said. “It doesn’t mean we haven’t taken notice of it. We’re working on it.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com