OCEAN CITY — A Seaford man, convicted of possession of heroin with intent to distribute and sentenced to 14 years in prison, will not get a shot at a new trial after a state court this week denied his appeal.
On Aug. 7, 2016, an Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officer observed a vehicle, driven by Etoyi Roach, now 43, of Seaford, making an illegal turn and cutting off a resort taxi, forcing the cab to slam on its brakes to avoid a collision. An alert was broadcast and a different OCPD officer stopped Roach’s vehicle a short time later.
During the traffic stop, a Worcester County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit was summoned to the scene and a scan of the vehicle and its occupants turned up 1,000 bags of heroin along with cocaine. Roach and one of his passengers, Ryan Steck, now 38, of Berlin, were arrested and charged with possession and possession with intent to distribute heroin. A second passenger, Jerry Weston, 37, of Greenwood, Del., was also arrested, but died while in the custody of the OCPD that same day.
According to police reports, Weston was in custody at the Public Safety Building when he complained of difficulty breathing. OCPD booking personnel contacted EMTs who responded to examine and treat Weston. Upon arrival of the Ocean City EMS, Weston began to seize and went into cardiac arrest.
Ocean City EMS began to conduct life-saving measures and transported the victim to Atlantic General Hospital where he was pronounced deceased. The investigation indicated emergency care was provided and emergency medical personnel were summoned to the Public Safety Building after Weston complained of symptoms including trouble breathing. Maryland State Police Homicide Unit investigators learned Weston told those treating him he had ingested cocaine.
At any rate, both Roach and Steck were each later convicted of possession with intent to distribute heroin and each was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Roach had four years of his 14-year sentence suspended, resulting in 10 years of active incarceration, while Steck is serving the entire 14-year sentence. Both filed appeals with the state’s Court of Special Appeals, asserting various flaws in their cases including the validity of the traffic stop, the lack of probable cause for the subsequent search, and the duration of the traffic stop.
Steck’s appeal was denied by the Court of Special Appeals last December, while Roach’s appeal continued on a parallel course. However, the Court of Special Appeals this week issued an opinion denying Roach’s appeal while upholding the judgement of the Worcester County Circuit Court in his case.
Roach’s appeal focused on three basic elements. First, he contended the OCPD officers lacked a basis to believe Roach had committed a moving violation and, therefore, had no justification for the traffic stop to begin with. He also asserted the traffic stop was unreasonable in length and that the scan by the K-9 unit was inconclusive.
For the Court of Special Appeals, the traffic stop was warranted because Roach made an illegal turn, causing the taxi to slam on its brakes. Everything that happened after that was justified, according to the high court.
“In sum, we hold that probable cause existed for the stop of Roach’s vehicle, that the police did not unreasonably extend the duration of the stop and that the evidence adduced by the drug dog scan was sufficient to establish probable cause for the ensuing search of the vehicle and Roach’s person,” the opinion reads. “We shall affirm the judgments of the circuit court.”