ISLE OF WIGHT — Jamie Wallace's parents describe him as a smart, loving man.
Paula Wallace said her son had seen his share of trouble — he earned a GED at 17 after quitting high school, then started dealing drugs and ended up in prison. But he had been on a good path after paying for his mistakes, she said — he had a good job, a loving girlfriend and things were looking up.
Jamie's comeback was derailed by a substance he bought over the counter at smoke shops and gas stations — a synthetic drug called spice that his parents blame for his death.
Bright — and bored
Paula said Jamie was "inordinately bright," but stubborn. He dealt with psychological issues starting in the second grade, she said, and was treated off and on for depression. He rejected school early and refused to do his homework throughout elementary and junior high school, even as he aced nearly every test.
"He was extremely bright, so it bothered us a lot," she said.
Paula said Jamie began experimenting with drugs around age 13 or 14. His parents didn't realize that until a couple of years later.
Jamie dropped out of high school with the intention of finishing through an alternative school program, but never went, instead earning his GED at 17.
He began selling marijuana out of their house when he was still a minor, Paula said, which his parents didn't approve of. His parents had him arrested, but Paula said he was let off on a technicality.
Jamie enrolled in community college but was becoming more involved with drugs. He went to prison after pleading guilty to cocaine possession and unlawful wounding.
Paula said Jamie seemed to be turning his life around after he was released in 2010 — he was off drugs, he had a job as a cook at Virginia Barbeque, he'd paid off all his debts and had a steady girlfriend.
"When he got out of jail he was on probation and they were drug testing him on a regular basis so he wasn't using drugs for … years," Paula said.
Then Jamie discovered a substance that wouldn't show up on drug tests and would let him get high without risking going back to lockup – spice.
Spice in Isle of Wight
According to Rick Gaddis, the chief investigator with the Isle of Wight Sherriff's Office, police learned that many people, particularly young people, were using spice and similar substances in 2012.
Spice, often marketed as K2 or "herbal incense," is drug that state legislators have spent years trying to control. Manufacturers of the drugs have stayed one step ahead of the legislature, altering the chemical makeup of their products every time lawmakers added a formula to the list of banned compounds. State lawmakers this year passed a bill that aims to close the loopholes and make synthetic drugs easier to regulate. It takes effect July 1.
Gaddis said he's not aware of much enforcement of laws related to spice sales in the county before 2012 and even then, enforcement remained tricky.
"When we started getting reports of overdoses, that really shot it up to a priority," Gaddis said.
Several overdoses in the county were attributed to spice that year, including two that occurred at the Carrollton Tobacco Company, a smoke shop on Sugar Hill Road off Route 17 that according to Gaddis was one of two stores selling the substance in Isle of Wight in 2012.
One store pulled the product from its shelves on its own. The Carrollton Tobacco Company, however, was raided by investigators from the Sheriff's Office and troopers from the Virginia State Police in September 2012, after a months-long investigation. Undercover investigators purchased spice four times at the store before it was raided.
Four Newport News residents were charged in federal court in connection to the sale of spice. All four entered guilty pleas and were released earlier this year on time served and with varying degrees of fines, probation and supervised release, according to court documents.
Gaddis said since police raided the shop, reports of spice overdoses have dropped essentially to zero and spice use has diminished throughout the county. Sheriff's deputies still see some spice use in Isle of Wight, he said, but following the drug to its source always leads them to a point of origin outside the county and sometimes even states away.
Stealing from friends
Jamie Wallace moved back in with his parents in December 2012 after being kicked out of an apartment he was sharing with roommates, Paula Wallace said. She said Jamie had stolen from some of them to fund his new addiction.
Paula said spice led to Jamie losing his job and his girlfriend around the same time, which led to a deep bout of depression.
His parents checked him into Riverside Behavioral Health Center but he didn't stay there – instead, he enrolled in an outpatient methadone treatment program in Newport News meant to help recovering drug addicts.
But Paula said he continued smoking spice while in the rehab program — it didn't show up on their drug tests. She said he was stealing checks from her throughout early 2013 to fund his habit and was spending about $40 a day on the drugs.
Bill and Paula Wallace confronted Jamie about his drug use "just about every other day," Bill Wallace said.
"At one point I tried bribing him," Paula said. "I said, 'If you can go without the spice for one month I'll give you $600.' And he couldn't do it."
Bill said Jamie didn't even try to quit.
Jamie started showing symptoms of serious illnesses during his stay with his parents, which his parents attribute to his drug use. Paula said Jamie was tested three or four times for AIDS because of the symptoms he was exhibiting – rapid weight loss, habitual coughing, night sweats. The tests came back negative.
He'd lost as much as 40 pounds and would see doctors but wouldn't mention that he was using spice, his mother said.
"(An oncologist) said, 'We think you have cancer, we just don't know where,'" Paula said. "He'd had seizures at one point, but he was just in total denial. We talked to him all the time. I told him that he was poisoning himself, that he was killing himself, that it was stupid to be running to doctors and not telling them the truth."
The Wallaces threatened for months to have Jamie arrested for the drug use and the theft. When they felt they were out of options, they turned to the Sheriff's Office.
"I honestly felt that being incarcerated was the best thing for him. It would get him back off the drugs, because he wouldn't voluntarily do it," Paula said.
Jamie told his parents that they could try to have him arrested, but he wouldn't go back to jail, Bill said.
About a week after the Wallaces contacted the Sheriff's Office, a deputy called and asked if Jamie was home. He was in his room, Paula replied. The deputy told the couple to get out of the house and leave the door unlocked.
The Wallaces met some of the deputies at a nearby gas station and waited while several of them went to arrest Jamie. Then, Paula said, they saw an ambulance pull down the street and knew something had gone wrong.
Jamie Wallace was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy on Aug. 9, 2013. He was 31 years old.
"It was his plan"
The Wallaces believe Jamie planned the outcome of the encounter long before the deputies showed up at their door.
"He was addicted … and he had a lot of time hanging over his head," Paula said. "I'm sure it was his plan, I just didn't think the Sheriff's Office would go along with it."
The couple said the Sheriff's Office told them that Jamie had come at the deputies with a knife. A deputy tried to subdue Jamie with a stun gun, but it misfired. The deputy then used his firearm, shooting Jamie in the shoulder.
The deputy was cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting by an internal review by the Sheriff's Office and by the Virginia State Police.
The Wallaces say spice killed their son.
"I lost my only child. I'll never have any grandchildren," Paula Wallace said. "We're still devastated by the whole thing. Jamie wasn't perfect but we loved him."
Bill Wallace, a retired paramedic, said what spice did to his son was worse than any drug he'd ever seen.
"People don't realize until it happens just how fragile life is. We miss Jamie every day. There's not a day goes by that we don't think about him," Bill Wallace said. "He wasn't always the best child he could have been, but by God, he was my son. He was the only son I had and I miss him very much."
Murphy can be reached by phone at 757-247-4760.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun