Date: December 6, 2007
Contact: Sheriff Robbie Crites

On Thursday, December 6, 2007, at approximately 1627 hours a Howell County Sheriff’s Office patrol car was involved in a two car crash just south of Houston, Missouri on U.S. Highway 63. A Howell County prisoner transport guard, Laura J. Whittingham, age 35, and a female prisoner, Lisa G. Oliver, 36, were both fatally injured. Deputy Sheriff Dennis D. Maddux, 53, and a male prisoner, Larry A. Marsh, 33, were both seriously injured and transported from Texas County Memorial Hospital in Houston to Springfield hospitals. At last report Deputy Maddux was listed in critical condition. No further report was available on Marsh.

Sheriff Robbie Crites stated, “First, our thoughts and prayers go to the families of both Laura and Ms. Oliver. Laura was the only female student in the new Sheriffs’ Academy and was well liked by her classmates and instructors. She always wanted to ‘out do the boys’, and usually did. She has helped us out on numerous transports and was a good guard, very conscious of her duty. She will be missed both professionally and personally. My thoughts are with her husband, children and the rest of her family.”

“We’re also thinking of Dennis and Mr. Marsh. Dennis is an extremely professional deputy, a hard worker and highly thought of by fellow employees and supervisors. Our prayers are with him for a speedy recovery.”

Both prisoners were being transported back to the Howell County Jail from the Missouri Department of Corrections for further court action in Howell County. The traffic accident is being investigated by the Missouri State Highway Patrol Major Crash Squad. Sheriff Crites also added, “I want thank Sheriff Carl Watson and his deputies, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the doctors and staff at Texas County Memorial Hospital, and everyone else who were so helpful to me and our people in a very difficult time.”


Date: March 23, 2007

New Emergency Lighting for Patrol Cars

"Safer for all motorists and deputies" is how Howell County Sheriff Robbie Crites describes new lightbars now being installed on his agencies patrol cars. The lightbars utilize the latest state-of-the-art LED technology and are much brighter and safer than traditional "rotator" lightbars. According to Sheriff Crites, "Our old lightbars had rotator lights which used gears, small motors and bulbs that all wore out and had to be replaced. In addition, they had large plastic lenses that became cloudy and had to be replaced often just to see the lights inside. The new light bars have no moving parts, are much brighter, the color purity is greater and the LED bulbs burn for several thousand hours. Also, they are lighter and have a lower profile for better fuel economy."

With these added features, Sheriff Crites believes that safety will be enhanced for all motorists as well as his deputies, "The difference will be noticed. This will help other motorists see the patrol cars as we are responding to emergencies and help protect emergency responders while we are assisting at an accident scene or stopped on the side of the road."

A new feature of the lightbars are "cruiser lights", which will be used by deputies at night while conducting patrols. "The cruiser lights are dim red and blue LED lights that can be turned on by deputies when they patrol a neighborhood or business area so the residents know it's a patrol car. Hopefully this will make our citizens more aware of our patrol presence."

Sheriff Crites also added, "The monies to purchase these lightbars were obtained from criminal forfeiture funds. No tax money was used to purchase these lights. It is a great use of these monies, which were profits from criminal enterprise here in Howell County, to enhance the safety of the public and officers."

The lightbars were manufactured in the USA by the Whelen Corporation and purchased from OMB Police Express in Kansas City. The lights were installed locally by Frosty Towers of West Plains.


Date: March 6, 2007

Deputies Investigate Shots Fired Into Business

On March 5, 2007 at 10:42 p.m., the Howell County Sheriff’s Office received a call from West Plains Motorsports, 4945 US Highway 160, just west of West Plains, to report shots fired into the business. Deputy Jason Long arrived at 10:47 p.m. and was told by the victims that the suspect vehicle had returned, fired more shots in their direction, and fled just moments before Deputy Long arrived. Deputies and Troopers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol searched the surrounding area but were unable to locate a suspect vehicle.

The victims, Bruce A. Pucket, West Plains, and Kerry B. Fields, Mtn. View, AR, both reported being inside the building and hearing what they believed were gunshots, then a loud vehicle drive away. They went outside and discovered what appeared to be numerous bullet holes in windows and exterior walls. While outside, the suspect vehicle allegedly returned and fired more shots.

Evidence of the shooting was collected at the scene and the Criminal Investigations Division of the Sheriff’s Office is following leads. The suspect vehicle is described as a red or maroon Chevrolet, with loud exhaust, and an “Airgate” style tailgate. Anyone with information concerning the incident should call the Howell County Sheriff’s Office Investigations Division at 417-256-2544.

The Sheriff’s Office would like to express appreciation to the West Plains Police Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol for their assistance.


March 1, 2007

On March 1, 2007, Howell County was struck by at least one tornado causing one fatality, 4 injuries and damaging several buildings. The tornado was first reported at 06:39 a.m. in the southwest corner of the county near Caulfield and caused damage to at least two business.

The storm apparently tracked northeast toward the Cureall and Pottersville area causing more damage to houses and barns. Just south of AB Highway, the storm struck causing damage to several houses before striking a mobile home belonging to the Jay Croney family. The residence was destroyed and one resident suffered fatal injuries. She has been identified as Elizabeth Ann Croney, age 7. Her parents, Jay and Tamara Croney, along with 10 year old Anthony Croney and 8 year old Austin Croney were transported to area hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to serious.

The storm continued northeast toward West Plains and struck several more houses and barns behind the Fairview School/K Highway area. The storm was observed by spotters in this area and dissipated just west of the city limits of West Plains. No other injuries were reported.

Sheriff Crites had these comments, “It is truly a tragedy for this family and our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire family and their friends. They are well known in this area as hard-working, good people.”

Sheriff Crites wished to thank the prompt responses from all Howell County area emergency responders, including Howell Rural Fire Department, Pottersville Fire Department, Caulfield Fire Department, Bakersfield Fire Department, West Plains Fire Department, South Howell County Ambulance, Air-Evac, Hammonds LifeLine, Cox AirCare, Howell County 911, West Plains Police Department, St. John’s Ambulance, Willow Springs Ambulance, Ozarks Medical Center, Howell County Road and Bridge, Howell County Commission, Howell County Emergency Preparedness, Howell County Red Cross Chapter and Howell County Assessor’s Office.


Date: January 14, 2007

Nearly 37 Pounds of Marijuana and Over $44,000 Seized in Search

After a joint effort between the Howell County Sheriff’s Office, the South Central Drug Task Force and the West Plains Police Department, approximately 37 pounds of processed marijuana and $44,205 in cash were seized from a Howell County residence late Saturday night. According to Sheriff Robbie Crites, this seizure is believed to be one of the largest processed marijuana seizures in Howell County history.

An investigation initiated by a West Plains Police Officer led to the joint investigation in which the search warrant was obtained. Howell County Deputies and other officers executed the search warrant at the home of Jerry and Vicki Hanley, 7224 County Road 4870, just west of West Plains shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday and discovered the large amount of marijuana along with the cash. Other items seized include 17 firearms, scales, packaging materials, drug paraphernalia and surveillance equipment.

Approximately 37 pounds of marijuana was found in two compressed bricks and an additional small amount was found in individual packages. Officials estimate the street value of the marijuana at $89,600. Both Jerry and Vicki Hanley were arrested at the residence and transported to the Howell County Jail. Both have been charged with Class B Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Distribute and are being held under $75,000 bond each. In addition, authorities with the South Central Drug Task Force have said federal charges are likely.

Sheriff Crites commented on the raid, “Besides the obvious dangers, marijuana is truly a gateway drug. It seems to get people introduced to the drug subculture and when people become involved in that ring and have those contacts in the drug world, many will continue to experiment and become addicted to other drugs, such as methamphetamine. Like most of our large drug busts, this was another example of the cooperation found in our County’s law enforcement community.”

Sheriff Crites wished to thank all agencies involved with the investigation and the search, including the Howell County Sheriff’s Office, the South Central Drug Task Force, the West Plains Police Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Forest Service.


Date: November 29, 2006


Deputies with the Howell County Sheriff’s Office arrested Mark R. Gitzen, age 38 of Thayer, Missouri, today at 11:34 a.m. after a 40 mile pursuit that ended in Douglas County. Gitzen, who was considered armed and dangerous, was wanted on a felony parole violation warrant (original charge of Delivery or Manufacture or Possess of Controlled Substance) and several Thayer city charges.

The pursuit began after Howell County Sheriff’s Investigator Shannon Caldwell spotted Gitzen driving a green 1995 Thunderbird in West Plains. He attempted to stop the vehicle on Missouri Avenue where Deputy Don Reid and Lt. Gary Lambe where parked and outside their vehicle with emergency lights activated. Gitzen sped away, nearly striking Reid and Lambe. The pursuit then continued on Missouri Avenue, crossing Broadway. At West Main, Gitzen turned west headed toward the City Park where he nearly struck Sheriff Robbie Crites head-on. The pursuit continued north on Porter Waggoner Boulevard and onto U.S. 63 until Gitzen turned west on State Route 14. Near the Douglas County line Sheriff Crites sought and received permission to enter into Douglas County from Sheriff Gary Koop. At this time, Gitzen swerved to avoid a large turtle in the roadway and his left front tire blew out, however, he continued west. Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Steven Cunningham deployed spike strips at the intersection of State Routes 14 and 95, succesfully deflating the remaining three tires. Gitzen’s vehicle then veered into the ditch and came to a rest. Gitzen was taken into custody without further incident.

Upon searching the vehicle, an active methamphetamine lab was discovered, as well as a police scanner, two cell phones, a hangman’s noose, gun powder, prescription medications, and a walkie-talkie.

Gitzen is facing the no-bond Parole Violation warrant along with three Thayer municipal warrants for Careless Driving, Fail To Yield To An Emergency Vehicle and Resisting Arrest. Several more charges against Gitzen will be sought following today’s pursuit.

Sheriff Crites commented on the pursuit, “We had information that Gitzen was in the West Plains area and knew that he was wanted. From his past run-ins with law enforcement he is considered violent and armed and dangerous. Fortunately, we were able to bring him back to jail without injury to anyone else.” Sheriff Crites would like to express appreciation to his dispatch and office staff who assisted with communications during the lengthy pursuit which reached speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Also, the Sheriff would like to thank the West Plains Police Department, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Missouri Department of Conservation and Trooper Cunningham and the Missouri State Highway Patrol for their assistance.

Date: August 21, 2006
Sheriff Warns of Possible Scams

Howell County Sheriff Robbie Crites warns area citizens and business owners of attempted scams going on in Missouri and across the United States. In recent months, several business owners have been approached either by phone or email, by persons from Nigeria or other African countries. In most cases, the person wishes to purchase items, ranging from boat equipment, DVD’s and tractor parts, by credit card. The contact is usually made either by a simulated computerized voice or by email directly to the business. Many times the credit card is rejecting and the person gives one or two more until one clears. In other cases, the person wants to send a money order for a much higher amount than the purchase amount and have the excess money returned. The money order is usually a counterfeit but initially clears many banks or stores.

“What happens is these people in foreign nations are using stolen credit card numbers that they scammed out of a victim or they are using counterfeit money orders or checks. Usually the fraudulent devices clear a step or two and the items are sent. After the items are shipped, the fraud is discovered and the victim is left holding the bag” said Sheriff Crites.

According to Sheriff Crites, the foreign governments are not willing to cooperate with the United States officials to stop this activity. It has been reported that in some nations, the number one source of income is fraud against United States citizens and business owners. Sheriff Crites also warned that internet auction sites, such as eBay, has been a playground for con-artists. “On eBay, a person may contact you by email wanting to buy something direct rather than through the auction process. Let’s say an item is $35. They ask to send you a money order for $100 and you are to send them the change. The money order initially clears the bank and you send the item and return the money, then discover it was a counterfeit money order. This type of fraud has actually prompted some banks to stop taking money orders.”

The Sheriff also offered these tips:

• If you receive an inquiry from a person from a foreign nation, especially Nigeria, use caution.

• Only accept money orders for the exact amount. Hold the product until the money order completely clears the bank.

• If the person wants you to ship the product to someone other than them, ask for the name and phone number of the other person so you can confirm it is a legitimate person.

• Do not hesitate to contact the credit card company to check the credit card numbers.

Anytime you feel suspicious about a transaction, contact the Howell County Sheriff’s Office-Criminal Investigations Division at 417-256-2544, or any other law enforcement agency.

DATE: August 11, 2006


On Thursday, August 10, 2006, members of the Howell County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Department of Treasury Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the South Central Drug Task Force and the Missouri State Alcohol and Tobacco Control Unit executed a Federal search warrant near Peace Valley in rural Howell County, Missouri.

A large scale illicit alcohol production operation was discovered and two local men were taken into federal custody. The illicit alcohol, better known as “moonshine”, was reportedly being distributed throughout the region and available in Howell County drinking establishments.

A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield alleges that undercover officers have purchased the moonshine on several occasions.

According to Peter Lobdell, Director of the State Alcohol and Tobacco Control Unit, “This is the largest illegal still taken out of operation in Missouri in over 30 years.”

“There are obvious health concerns when you see how this product is being manufactured. In my opinion, this is very comparable to a toxic methamphetamine lab in terms of the poor sanitation found in this type of operation. Also, we have received numerous complaints and concerns about moonshine being available in the local area and instances of it ending up in the possession of minors” said Sheriff Robbie Crites.

The Sheriff stated he would like to thank the participating agencies for their cooperation in the investigation. He also added that anyone with further information about this or other operations, or who have concerns about illicit alcohol, please contact the Criminal Investigations Division of the Howell County Sheriff’s Office.


Date: August 7, 2006


Missouri School Violence Hotline

With the first day of school just around the corner, Howell County Sheriff Robbie Crites would like to remind all area parents and students of Missouri’s School Violence Hotline. The Hotline allows for concerned members of the public to relay threats of violence to the proper authorities within the appropriate school district and law enforcement community.

The information received from callers is gathered on a centralized data base then the information is faxed to the appropriate school district and law enforcement authorities. “Our goal, combined with school officials and juvenile authorities, is to reduce violence within our schools. The hotline is an excellent tool and has been used successfully here in Howell County in the past. I want to encourage anyone with information they feel is important about school violence to call” said Sheriff Crites.

The hotline is staffed Monday through Friday from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. Outside the hours, callers are encouraged to call their local law enforcement agency.

The Missouri School Violence Hotline is a statewide service that began operation on October 1, 2001. Funds are made available for this project through the Missouri Department of Public Safety and the Missouri Juvenile Justice Advisory Group from funding provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Date: July 28, 2006


A joint effort between federal, state, county and city law enforcement officials resulted in the arrests of 45 individuals stemming from an undercover drug operation. At 5:00 a.m. on Thursday, July 27, more than 40 law officers assembled at the Howell County Sheriff’s Office armed with warrants from a Howell County grand jury. According to Sheriff Crites, “The large majority of the warrants were for distribution of prescription medications. The diversion of medication is a huge problem not only here in south-central Missouri, but across the whole nation. It really creates a challenge for law enforcement.”

The investigation was conducted by members of the South Cental Drug Task Force (SCDTF). Of the 45 individuals accounted for, 93 warrants were cleared from this investigation and an additional 4 persons were arrested on unrelated warrants. There are approximately 25 more warrants to be served and work is underway to locate these individuals. A total of 58 persons were indicted in this investigation (many individuals had more than one warrant resulting in more than 120 charges). A spokesman from the SCDTF said this arrest effort is the largest drug “round-up” in Howell County history.

The SCDTF is one of the few drug task forces in the country that is jointly operated by federal, state and local authorities. Sheriff Crites, Project Director of the SCDTF commented, “The cooperation between the US Forest Service, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and local officials is a great thing for rural Missouri. I truly want to the thank both the Forest Service and the Patrol for all they do to keep the day-to-day operations of the Task Force going.”

Agencies participating in the operation include officers from the South Central Drug Task Force, US Forest Service, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Missouri
Probation and Parole, Howell County Sheriff’s Office, Mountain View Police, Willow Springs Police, and the West Plains Police. The Sheriff would also like to offer a large thank-you to the jail staff at the Sheriff’s Office for their efficient work and professionalism in handling such large numbers of inmates.

This operation was conducted in conjunction with other nation-wide sweeps of drug offenders coordinated through the National Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies.


Date: July 12, 2006

West Plains Police and Howell County Sheriff Receive Livescan Fingerprint Machines

The Howell County Sheriff’s Office and the West Plains Police Department have both recently been awarded “Livescan” Fingerprint Machines, valued at $32,000 each. The machines are part of a state-wide joint grant between the State Emergency Management Agency, the Missouri Police Chiefs Association and the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association. The funds are the result of SEMA and the Police Chiefs and Sheriffs’ cooperating together to pursue federal Homeland Security monies. The only cost to the City and County will be a annual maintenance fee of $2500. Statewide, 125 machines were awarded to city and county law enforcement agencies as a part of this grant.

The fingerprint machine actually scans the person’s prints in real time and are automatically downloaded directly to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Fingerprint Repository in Jefferson City and then on to the FBI. This process will virtually eliminate the old ink process and will drastically decrease the waiting period to receive confirmation back from the Patrol or FBI. The ability to correctly identify subjects with multiple identifications will be greatly enhanced and the time spent on fingerprinting with the ink and paper will also be reduced.

Each Officer and Deputy in the local agencies will receive a six hour instruction course on the machines. Three Deputies and two Police Officers recently completed the instructor training course in order to have the training brought back to the local agencies. The machines were installed last week at both facilities and are expected to be in-service upon the completion of the training.


Date: June 30, 2006

Sheriffs’ Deputies Begin Monthly Legal Examinations

Howell County Sheriff Robbie Crites has announced that he along with his Deputy Sheriff’s are participating in monthly legal examinations. The exams are administered on a secured website and focus on up-to-date legal issues. Each Deputy takes the exam every month and at the end of the year are awarded with Continuing Education Units that are required to keep his or her POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) License.

According to the Sheriff, “Many of the topics we see in the monthly test are from the latest Missouri and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The tests are an excellent tool to keep all of us aware of changes in criminal law that occur every month.” The May exam, for example, focused on a U.S. Supreme Court decision made in late March concerning a warrantless search of a residence. The May exam also highlighted legal guidelines for photo lineups, civil lawsuits concerning law enforcement administrators and issues concerning false arrest.

The test is written and designed by Police Legal Sciences of Washington, Iowa and each exam is customized for Missouri Peace Officers. According to the Police Legal Sciences website the company’s goal is to “...strengthen a police officer’s capacity to make good decisions. A good decision is defined as one that : a) is ethical; b) correctly follows the applicable statutory and case law of the specific jurisdiction; and c) promotes respect for the law and for law enforcement officers.”


Date: May 3, 2006

Mississippi Fugitive Arrested in Howell County

Members of the Central Mississippi Fugitive Task Force (Jackson, MS), the Howell County Sheriff’s Office, and the United States Marshal Service (Springfield, MO) apprehended a fugitive from Madison County, Mississippi on Tuesday in Howell County.

According to the Central Mississippi Fugitive Task Force, Betty June Ashcraft had been charged with 2 Counts of Possession of Marijuana with intention to convey or distribute in a drug operation near Jackson, Mississippi. During her 2002 trial, Ashcraft, who was free on bond, left the courtroom during jury deliberations and failed to return. Ashcraft was then found guilty and sentenced to 35 years and a $1.5 million fine. She had been sought by local and federal authorities for the past 4 years and was using the alias of “Virginia Mae Gonzalez”.
Federal authorities had developed information that Ashcraft was living at 2608 Burke Street in West Plains. The United State Marshal Service then contacted the Sheriff’s Office and the arrest was made without incident at 4:20 p.m. at 3336 North Highway 63.


Date: April 13, 2006

Members of the Howell County Sheriff’s Office are now equipped with X26 TASERS. All Patrol Deputies, Investigators, Court Security Officers, Civil Process Deputies and Jailors are being trained in the use of the TASER. Deputy Jared Peterman and Deputy Joey Kentner recently successfully completed TASER Instructor Certification and are conducting the training for the Sheriff’s Office.

According to Sheriff Robbie Crites, the X-26 TASERS are one of the most advanced tools in law enforcement technology. “One of the best advantages of the TASER is the psychological advantage. Most people have seen the tremendous effects of this weapon on television and many times situations are defused by the mere display of the TASER. We hope to utilize this tool in conjunction with good verbal commands and communication in order to avoid deadly-force encounters. Also the TASERS have proved successful in limiting injuries to citizens, deputies and suspects.”

Each officer completed a course on the TASER including a written test and a 2-5 second exposure to the device. One TASER will be assigned to the Courthouse, one in the Jail and four will be available for other deputies.

Bomb Threat at Howell County Factory

Date: April 12, 2006

On April 11, 2006 at approximately 1113 hours, an employee at Royal Oaks Charcoal received a bomb threat by telephone. The facility was immediately evacuated. Officers from the Howell County Sheriff’s Office responded along with the West Plains Fire Department. Because of the extensive size of the facility and the large amount of flammable liquid and material, the search of the facility took approximately two and a half hours. Approximately 40 fire personnel from various departments assisted in the search. No device or suspicious items were located.

According to Sheriff Robbie Crites, “Any bomb threat is taken seriously. Unfortunately in this post-September 11 era that we live in we have to be even more aware and concerned over these types matters. The nature of the Royal Oaks facility with the particular materials they have made the potential of a bomb even more dangerous. I want to thank the staff at Royal Oaks for their assistance. We have a superb working relationship with our local fire departments and ambulance services. Without their cooperation, we would have a hard time doing a safe search and covering that large of a facility. We are following some leads on the threat and we are confident the matter will be resolved with prosecution of the caller and any others involved.”

The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank all agencies involved including West Plains Fire Department, Pottersville Fire Department, Eleven Point Fire Department, Mountain View Fire Department, Howell Rural Fire Department, Peace Valley Fire Department, Pomona Fire Department, Lanton Fire Department, Rover Fire Department, Willow Springs Fire Department and South Howell County Ambulance.


Date: December 30, 2005
Amber Alert Issued, Child Found

On December 29, 2005 at approximately 1545 the Howell County Sheriff’s Office received information of a possible child abduction at 7744 County Road 3440, just northwest of Mountain View, Missouri. Upon investigation it was discovered that a 10 year-old female, Kodi Nicole McCloskey had been taken from the yard of her grandparents. A 8 year-old female relative of the child was unable to recognize any of the three females who took the child. Both young children were from out of the area and visiting relatives.

Information was developed that the mother of the child had possibly taken the child, however, law enforcement authorities were unable to confirm this. After speaking to other family members, the Sheriff’s Office made the decision to handle the situation as an abduction.

At approximately 1725 hours a local and nationwide Amber Alert was initiated by the Howell County Sheriff’s Office. At approximately 2120 hours, the mother of the child heard the Amber Alert and placed a phone call to the Howell County Sheriff Robbie Crites. She was instructed to go to the nearest Sheriff’s Office. At approximately 2135 hours the Camden County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the child was with her mother, safe and unharmed. The Camden County Sheriff’s Office further investigated that the mother and father are separated and no legal custody issues have been determined in court. No further criminal action is expected.

On the issuing of the Amber Alert, Sheriff Crites said, “It proved successful. We had numerous calls and tips, ultimately the mother heard the alert and we were able to confirm, through law enforcement, that the child was safe. We were 99% sure that the situation was a custody dispute, but until I am 100% sure, I’m going to err on doing all we can to locate the child. I want to thank the Ozarks Radio Network for the work they have done in establishing the local Amber Alert system, as well as the numerous media outlet across the state for their cooperation.”

The matter was investigated by the Howell County Sheriff’s Office with cooperation from the Mountain View Police Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Rolla Police Department, the Phelps County Sheriff’s Office, and the Camden County Sheriff’s Office.


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