As Louisville Metro Police Detective Darrell Hyche stepped toward a white pickup truck to make a traffic stop, a gunman fired bullets into his face and head.
His partner fired back, killing the gunman and another passenger.
Rattled residents and many officers didn’t know at the time of the Feb. 1, 2018, shootout in Buechel, Kentucky, that the men inside the pickup were connected to a much larger drug trafficking organization — one that lured violent gangs from Detroit and ordered millions of dollars of methamphetamine from Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa Cartel.
Investigators suspect that during 2016-2018 drug ring members also were involved in at least four deaths in Michigan, Kentucky and Mississippi.
The Courier-Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, spent weeks interviewing agents, prosecutors, defence attorneys and local police and sifting through court, police and jail records in four states to piece together details of the criminal enterprise and the destructive swath it cut across the U.S. — culminating in arson, a toxic romance, betrayal and deadly revenge.
The newsroom’s investigation revealed the drug ring’s links to Detective Hyche’s shooting, the killing of a 28-year-old mother and a 27-year-old man in Louisville, the murder of a man in Detroit and the mysterious death of a woman in a casino in Tunica, Mississippi.
The picture that developed depicts how Cuban refugee Jose Manuel Prieto Jr., 56, built a drug ring in California that stretched from the West Coast northeast to Buffalo, New York, and south to Atlanta before leading his son, a U.S. Air Force veteran, on a path to prison.