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Virginian Hit With Fine, No Prison Time for Bringing Ammo to Turks and Caicos

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A Virginia man has become the second American to avoid a lengthy prison stay after accidentally leaving a few stray rounds ammunition in his luggage when he traveled to the Turks and Caicos Islands on vacation. Tyler Wenrich, a husband, father, EMT, and 911 dispatcher from Louisa County, Virginia had previously pleaded guilty to illegally possessing ammunition, and at his sentencing appearance on Tuesday morning, he learned his fate: time served and a $9,000 fine.

Wenrich was on a cruise taking part in a friend’s bachelor party when he was stopped by security while going through a checkpoint in late April. Two rounds of 9mm ammunition were discovered in his bag, which led to him being taken into custody. Since his arrest he’s been confined to the islands, but will be allowed to leave once his fine’s been paid.

“I have a lot of fear and anxiety as to what’s going to happen and I’m hoping that the judge finds some compassion and leniency in the situation that I’m in,” Wenrich told ABC News earlier this month. 

Wenrich had gone shooting at a gun range with friends and said he forgot he was carrying the ammunition.

This comes just days after a Pennsylvania father sentenced to a suspended 52-week sentence with a fine of $6,700. He has since returned home and has been reunited with his family. 

“Absolutely overwhelmed,” Bryan Hagerich told WTAE when asked about holding his kids for the first time in 101 days. “Just so much joy. My biggest concern is coaching my kids’ baseball games tomorrow and that is such a relief.”

It’s unclear why the judge in Wenrich’s case imposed a heavier fine than the one Hagerich received, but I find that odd given that Hagerich had been accused of bringing in several more rounds of ammunition than Wenrich. Under Turks and Caicos law, anyone (not just tourists) found in illegal possession of either firearms or ammunition is subject to a minimum of twelve years in prison, though the statute does allow a judge to impose a lesser sentence if “exceptional circumstances” are found.  

There are still three other American tourists who are still awaiting sentencing for their own inadvertent transportation of ammunition in their luggage, though one Texas resident was allowed to leave the islands because of a medical condition. Ryan Watson of Oklahoma and Sharitta Grier of Florida, on the other hand, are stuck in the Turks and Caicos until their cases have been resolved. 

At this point both Watson and Grier have to be feeling at least a little more optimistic that they’ll be able to soon leave the islands after paying a stiff fine, given that judges have now found exceptional circumstances existed for the two defendants who’ve already been sentenced. Like Hagerich and Wenrich, Watson and Grier maintain that they didn’t mean to bring any ammunition with them on vacation, and prosecutors haven’t alleged that either of them tried to traffic the stray rounds or were even aware that the ammunition was in their luggage when they set off to the airport. 

It’s been a few weeks since any American tourist has been detained. Hopefully, word about the draconian laws in the Turks and Caicos Islands has gotten around, and any gun owners who are heading to the islands are double-checking their baggage before boarding their plane. I still think the best option for gun owners is to avoid vacationing in places that treat possession of a firearm or ammunition as a serious crime; not only to spare themselves the potential of a lengthy court battle, but to spend their dollars in a place that respects the right to keep and bear arms. There are plenty of sunny beaches in Constitutional Carry states like Florida, Texas, and South Carolina, and those are a much safer choice for Second Amendment supporters than the Turks and Caicos Islands…. where a week-long stay could end up lasting for twelve years or more.  

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