SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A nearly two-year drug investigation in coastal Georgia and neighboring South Carolina led to police intercepting roughly $2.7 million worth of cocaine being smuggled along a highway and brought charges against 39 suspects, authorities said Monday.

“It’s a pretty good lick for this neck of the woods,” said Everette Ragan, director of the Counter Narcotics Team that handles drug cases for Savannah and other police agencies in surrounding Chatham County.

Chatham County police worked with authorities in nearby Beaufort County, S.C., and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration on a 20-month investigation that targeted three groups of drug dealers selling cocaine and marijuana in Savannah.

Police said some of the dealers were operating from South Carolina, while others were based in smaller communities outside Savannah.

“The main players are outside the city limits of Savannah, coming in and selling their drugs here,” Ragan said during a news conference Monday.

After months of surveillance stakeouts and undercover drug buys, police said, investigators learned of plans to haul a big shipment of cocaine to Savannah along Interstate 16.

On July 3, authorities intercepted a sport utility vehicle traveling the interstate in Laurens County, 100 miles west of Savannah. The driver fled an attempted traffic stop and led police on a 10-mile chase before officers punctured the SUV’s tires and forced it to stop. Inside the vehicle they found more than 50 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of roughly $2.7 million.

“It’s amazing what you don’t realize is running up and down your I-16 corridor,” said Laurens County Sheriff Bill Harrell, who dedicated more than a dozen deputies to assist with the bust.

Two men — Ernest Antonio Edwards and Grilly Holloway — were arrested in the chase. Both have been indicted on felony charges of conspiring to violate Georgia drug laws.

Holloway’s attorney, Tom Withers, declined to comment Monday. Edwards’ lawyer, Richard Darden, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Police said the big cocaine bust from July snowballed over the following months into dozens of search and arrest warrants from South Carolina to Atlanta to Brunswick, a coastal city 60 miles south of Savannah.

Police ended up charging 39 suspects, mostly on drug-conspiracy charges, though five have managed to evade authorities. Police said they also seized a total of $312,769 in cash, 11 pounds of marijuana worth an estimated $48,832 and 10 firearms that were taken from convicted felons.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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