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Virginia EMT is latest U.S. tourist arrested in Turks and Caicos after ammo allegedly found in luggage

By:Kris Van Cleave Updated on: April 26, 2024 / 8:52 PM EDT / CBS News

A 30-year-old U.S. man was arrested in Turks and Caicos last weekend after ammunition was allegedly found in his luggage, CBS News has learned, making him the latest of several Americans in recent months who found themselves in a similar predicament in the British territory.

Tyler Wenrich was taken into custody after officials allegedly found two bullets in his backpack April 20 as he was about to board a cruise ship.

Possessing a gun or ammunition is prohibited in Turks and Caicos, but tourists were previously often able to just pay a fine. In February, however, a court order mandated that even tourists in the process of leaving the country are subject to prison time.

The Virginia EMT and father now faces the potential of a mandatory minimum prison sentence of up to 12 years.

“I feel like, as a very honest mistake, that 12 years is absurd,” his wife, Jeriann Wenrich, told CBS News Friday.

Wenrich says her husband had been on the island for less than a day when the arrest occurred.

“My son’s only 18 months old, and I just don’t want to him to grow up without a dad,” Wenrich said.

There are now at least four American tourists facing the possibility of lengthy prison sentences for similar charges, including a 72-year-old man, Michael Lee Evans, who was arrested in December and pled guilty to possession of seven rounds of ammo. He appeared before the court on Wednesday via a video conference link. Currently on bail in the U.S. for medical reasons, Evans has a sentencing hearing in June. A fifth person, Michael Grim of Indiana, served nearly six months in prison after he pleaded guilty to mistakenly bringing ammo in his checked luggage for a vacation.

Ryan Watson, a 40-year-old father of two from Oklahoma, was released from a Turks and Caicos jail on $15,000 bond Wednesday. Following a birthday vacation with his wife, he was arrested April 12 when airport security allegedly found four rounds of hunting ammo in his carry-on bag earlier this month.

His wife, Valerie Watson, flew home to Oklahoma Tuesday after learning she would not be charged. However, as part of his bond agreement, her husband must remain on the island and check in every Tuesday and Thursday at the Grace Bay Police Station while his case moves forward.

In an interview Friday from the island, Ryan Watson told CBS News that he checked the bag before he packed it.

“I opened it up and kind of give it a little shimmy, didn’t see anything, didn’t hear anything,” he said.

TSA also acknowledged that officers missed the ammo when Watson’s bag was screened at the checkpoint on April 7 at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.

In a statement provided to CBS News Friday, a TSA spokesperson said that “four rounds of ammunition were not detected” in Watson’s bag “during the security screening.”

The spokesperson said that “an oversight occurred that the agency is addressing internally.”

“It was my mistake,” Ryan Watson said. “It was very innocent. And I just pray that, compassion and consideration, because there was zero criminal intent.”

In a statement Friday, the Turks and Caicos government said that it “reserves the right to enforce its legislation and all visitors must follow its law enforcement procedures.”

Following the CBS News report on Ryan Watson earlier this week, the State Department reissued a warning to American tourists traveling to Turks and Caicos to “carefully check their luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons.”

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