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As Bible Road neighbors beg for help fighting drugs, she misses her brother: 'He could have been great'

Posted at 12:39 PM, Aug 30, 2022

NOTTOWAY COUNTY, Va. -- Neighbors, police, and government leaders tell the CBS 6 Problem Solvers that what once was an idyllic part of Nottoway County is now dealing with a significant rise in crime and drug overdoses. County leaders said they’re struggling to come up with solutions that can be implemented immediately.

"He had the whole world in front of him," former Nottoway County resident Jeanette Gratz said about her younger brother Charles Arbitelle. "He could have been something great."

Arbitelle, 43, was one of the first people to die from a drug overdose in Nottoway County in 2022.

"I knew the call was gonna come eventually," Gratz said. "I knew it was gonna come, and I thought that I was prepared for it. But I wasn't."

Arbitelle struggled with addiction for years. He fatally overdosed on January 4 inside a trailer along Bible Road in Crewe.

It was the same trailer Nottoway Sheriff's deputies said they've been called to several times this year for reports of suspicious activity and overdoses.

"It was obvious that he was overdosing, and no one cared to call 911," said Gratz. "He could still be here today. Would it have changed his life? I don't know. But I know four children who are missing their dad."

Jeanette Gratz.png
Jeanette Gratz

Burkeville Fire and EMS is one of the agencies that responds to calls on Bible Road.

Fire and EMS officials said they've already received more overdose calls in 2022 than all of 2021.

"There's definitely been a rise in the overdose deaths," Nottoway Sheriff Robert Jones said. "And a lot of calls coming into EMS, they don't come in as overdoses, but they come in as something else, an unresponsive person, but we'll find out later it probably was an overdose."

Sheriff Jones said the county was on track to double the number of arrests made for drug use and possession with more than 30 people charged so far in 2022 compared to 42 in 2021.

Jones and county supervisor John Roark argue that drug-induced crime has many of their citizens living on edge.

"Those high-level dysfunctional drugs, that is creating the majority of the crime," Roark explained. "They're terrified. They're scared. They're justified in being scared, and the only way, the only way to fix this is resources."

Roark believes the county needs programs to help those struggling with addiction. The closest programs are 30 to 40 miles away in Brunswick and Chesterfield.

"We need to get some type of program back into the schools," he noted. "We also need to start looking on counseling and rehabilitation, not just throwing them in jail."

But for repeat offenders, Roark doesn't believe they should be able to walk the streets without punishment.

"Get tough sentences," said Roark. "These plea deals, get them out the window, forget it, go to court. Conviction rates mean nothing when they're still on the street committing crimes."

The county leader is calling on the state to step in and help because local law enforcement is overwhelmed.

"We are a lot limited, and that's a lot of our issue," Sheriff Jones expressed. "I think that's why folks that we get, we pick them up or arrest them, and they get in front of the courts. They get released back out here because they just don't have any services for them."

But not everyone is in favor of stricter drug laws and prison sentences.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposes the criminal prohibition of drugs, saying they believe the "lock 'em up" mentality of the war on drugs has burdened our criminal justice system to the breaking point.

The ACLU also argues drug-law enforcement consumes more than half of all police resources nationwide, resources they say could be better spent fighting violent crimes like rape, assault, and robbery.

But justice department data does show a link between drug crimes and violent crime, and Sheriff Jones said he was concerned about the escalation in his community.

"Sooner or later, if they are in walking distance of a place, they keep going back to causing problems, sooner or later, they can find something big to do at that place," he noted.

Jeannette Gratz believes time behind bars might have saved her brother.

"I wish he could have gotten caught and gone to jail, and maybe the time in jail would have helped him, you know, wean off of those drugs and kind of reevaluate," Gratz said.

Now she’s working to encourage others to speak out and seek help for their loved ones before it’s too late.

"This is not I think there should be a war on drugs," said Gratz. "But I believe in loving people, loving people where they're at. I feel like as a community, we have to reach out more to these people and be there for them. Drug addict is not the label that I want my brother to have for his life because he was a dad and his children love him."

Gratz said she hoped she can save at least one life by sharing her brother's story.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers reached out to Nottoway Commonwealth's Attorney Leanne Watrous for her take on the rise in drug use and crime.

She replied with a statement explaining a change in bond decisions, which now includes a presumption in favor of bond for all offenses, has led to some defendants being released immediately.

“Criminal justice reform has brought about some needed changes," she wrote. "One concern though is that many of those changes have focused on the defendant, but fail to consider the impact to public safety at large and the rights of victims. My office remains focused on respecting the rights of the victims and advocating for a safe community, while also respecting the constitutional and statutory rights of defendants.”

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