A fugitive living at a meth lab in the backwoods of Rockingham County ran smack into “Justice,” a black lab K9 who tracked the felon down in the dark woods Monday evening. Conservation Police Officer (CPO) Wayne Billhimer, Justice’s handler, along with several Rockingham County deputies, made the arrest at 10pm after the K9 first used his nose to find a cache of drugs and then the suspect. The fugitive is now charged with several felony warrants including felony kidnapping, grand larceny, two counts of possession of a controlled substance, possession of a firearm by a felon, and marijuana possession.
It all started when Officer Billhimer, who was off-duty, noticed a car slowly driving by a well-known deer crossing near his home shining a handheld light from a window. It was a place he’d made many spotlighting cases over the years. Upon seeing the illegal spotlight, Billhimer grabbed his duty belt and followed the vehicle to a nearby home. In checking the vehicle’s registration, the tags did not match the car.
A woman answering the door provided only vague details. But after learning the subject’s name, the CPO got word from DGIF dispatch: this man is a fugitive wanted for numerous felonies including kidnapping.
CPO Billhimer deployed K9 Justice, one of DGIF’s highly-trained tracking dogs. Within minutes, Justice alerted to six containers of drugs and drug paraphernalia in the backyard.
Although not trained as drug sniffing dogs, DGIF’s K9s are trained to track human scent as well as gunpowder residue and game animals. Billhimer alerted the Rockingham County RUSH Drug Task Force who worked to process the heavily drug-polluted residence.
Justice hit on a hot scent trail leading from the vehicle’s driver door directly into the woods. Billhimer, along with Rockingham County deputies utilizing a night vision scope, followed. After a half mile trek Justice began barking – alerting to the suspect, who was hiding behind a log. He had buried himself in leaves.
“Show me your hands,” ordered the CPO. After a few tense moments, the suspect surrendered and was handcuffed by one of the deputies.
The wanted felon had cast a spotlight near the wrong house. “Something as small as a handheld light out of a window can lead to a bust,” said Billhimer.
“This case is an important reminder of the dangers of enforcing the wildlife laws and the risks our officers take to apprehend those who have no regard for our natural resources, says Major Scott Naff, Assistant Chief of Operations for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Law Enforcement Division. “We are very proud of our K9 program and the incredible skills the K9s have and the talent our K9 officers have in using these valuable tools. We are also very appreciative of the support our officers receive from local law enforcement. It is reassuring to know that Officer Billhimer and Justice had the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Deputies behind them while tracking this dangerous fugitive.”
Billhimer has served as a Conservation Police Officer for 11 years. He has partnered with K9 Justice for the past 8 years; they have numerous successful tracking operations under their belt.
“We are a great team,” said Billhimer.