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Hunter Detained Overseas for 11 Weeks Returns Home

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Headlines were made several months ago when an Oklahoma hunter was detained on vacation with his wife and friends in the Turks & Caicos, but his story turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg. When Ryan Watson flew to the tropical paradise with his wife and friends, he certainly didn’t have much more on his mind than sun, sand and celebrating his 40th birthday. Some forgotten ammunition in his luggage, however, turned his trip upside down. After an initial detention on April 7th, Ryan’s wife, Valerie, was able to return to the U.S. on April 23rd. Ryan himself was unable to leave the Turks and Caicos until his sentencing, despite posting bail.

Fortunately for Ryan (though unfortunately for all involved), he was not alone in the Turks and Caicos. Four other Americans had run afoul of the same law in the same way over the past months. Previously, the law carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years in jail, however with so many unsuspecting tourists blundering into serious legal peril (and no small amount of pressure from American lawmakers), authorities in the vacation hotspot were prompted to take action. Just days prior to his sentencing, the law was amended away from having to prove “exceptional circumstances” to avoid the minimum sentence, to a format in which the court has greater discretion to impose a lesser punishment and the minimum sentence was removed.

Watson’s sentencing finally happened today and, in the wake of the rule change, he was given a suspended sentence of 13 weeks in jail along with a $2000 fine. He has said he plans on making the payment, departing the island and returning home to Oklahoma City this evening.

Watson makes the third of the five detainees so far allowed to return home free and clear. Bryan Hagerich of Pennsylvania received a suspended sentence and a $6,700 fine for possessing 20 rifle rounds that were found in his baggage on a family vacation, while Tyler Wenrich of Virginia was sentenced to time served and a $9,000 fine over two 9mm rounds. Its not over for everyone, however. Florida grandmother Sharitta Grier, who was arrested in May on her way home from a surprise Mother’s Day vacation after two cartridges were found in her hand luggage, is still being detained on the island (though she is out of jail on bail). The fifth, 72-year-old Michael Lee Evans, of Texas, was allowed to return home on bail for medical reasons, but is still awaiting sentencing.

These stories are a slightly harrowing reminder to always be careful when travelling overseas. Spare ammo can easily find its way into an unseen fold or forgotten compartment of your bag, only to be discovered by an X-ray at the worst possible time. If you’ve ever used the bag you’re flying with while out hunting or shooting, make sure to double check that it’s clear before you head to the airport. While leaving loose ammo in a carry-on can be an embarrassing and potentially costly mistake here at home, doing so in a country without strong Second Amendment-style protections is something far worse.



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