Felony Drug Busts Skyrocket Along I-29 Corridor

While South Dakota remains one of the least populated states in the nation, people are moving here in record numbers. The state has seen nearly 80,000 new residents over the past ten years. A good share of them are located somewhere along the I-29 corridor.

They are coming to the state because there is a quality of life here that is desirable: there are good jobs, the cost of living is low, and South Dakota remains one of the safest, most neighborly states you can find. But, with any good the boom may bring, comes a problem officials locally, statewide, and nationally are trying to get out in front of.

“I’m seeing a felony level notification almost daily,” said Captain Jason Husby with the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

The Highway Patrol and coordinating agencies have seen a 400% increase in felony drug arrests in counties along the I-29 corridor between 2007 and 2017. So far this year, the numbers only continue to rise with one of the biggest heroin busts in state history happening just weeks ago.  Click here for an overview of 2017 cases.

“Unfortunately, probably more of it is coming here,” Husby added. “This is an area that is really experiencing growth in South Dakota.”

The drugs are cheap, powerful and deadly. And they’re coming in daily out of Mexico, and Central and South America, officials tell KDLT News. Traffickers can’t run them in fast enough, apparently, to satisfy a growing number of addicts, hungry for their next high as many meth labs here have effectively been shut down.

With the increased use, “I think a lot of people would be surprised not only what goes up and down the interstate, but what’s in our local communities,” Moody County Sheriff Troy Wellman told KDLT News. “The simple assaults are going up, the thefts are going up because of the drugs, everything is continually going up and if you can go back to it, it’s more than likely drug related.”

It’s being seen all up and down the I-29 corridor, and it means families who want nothing to do with the trend are getting pulled into the mix, regardless.

“I think the first thing Charlie saw was the TV missing from the living room. He proceeded to find my jewelry missing, and the checkbook shortly thereafter,” said Lora Zwart, who had her home in rural Moody County broken into early in the morning on December 15, 2015. She was already at work in Sioux Falls when her husband returned home from chores and a trip to town to find their home had been broken into.

“It was a Monday morning,” said Zwart. “I was in a hurry, I ran out the door without my jewelry on.  My wedding ring, my engagement ring, I would give anything to have those back.”

The suspect in their case, Kyle Stadler, admitted he took the items to sell in exchange for drug money. He found the Zwarts after a string of other mail and residential burglaries. The Zwarts are just glad no one was home to get hurt. With new, added security measures, they’re trying to get back to as normal a life as possible.  Click here to view the Zwart’s case file.

“No matter how much any of us want to think, none of us live close to Mayberry anymore. No matter how small of a town or how comfortable you are, start locking your doors,” said Wellman.

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