Feb 7, 2013 1:33 PM by Lupita Murillo
PINAL COUNTY - Violence continues to escalate in rural areas of Pinal County, located just to north of Pima County.
Recent efforts by the Pinal County Sheriff's department seem to be giving residents new found hope with the addition of the Anti-Smuggling Unit.
Jay Stewart tells News 4 he lives in danger all the time. His house sits on seven acres, it borders the Ironwood National Monument. He bought the property 16 years ago. Prior to the drug cartels doing business in his back yard.
Stewart says, "Just north of the mountains there was a rolling gun battle between the cartels and another rip crew trying to steal their drugs." That's not all, "I've seen boxes of ammunition that were empty, I've found vehicles that the blocks were shot up."
There's also been armed home invasions south of his house.
Stewart also works with the Pinal County Sheriff's department and calls them when he finds abandoned vehicles in the area. According to sheriff's officials the vehicles are stolen and used by the cartels to transport drugs. Stewart is a pilot, and when he's flying he often sees activity from the air and calls it into the authorities. He once spotted someone living in a cave that looked onto his property.
Turns out that man was a "spotter" for the cartels.
But Stewart's helping law enforcement has also come with a price. He got word the cartels were waiting for him to land his airplane in the desert so they could kill him.
Lt. Matthew Thomas says the area Stewart lives in, does happen to be the most violent. He says there are more homicides in that area, and more assault weapons are seized.
A year and a half ago, sheriff Paul babeau started the Anti Smuggling Unit. It was formed to help residents like Jay Stewart.
Lt. Thomas says, "We push that problem elsewhere, they're never going to stop but the cartels will vacate that area because they're getting a lot of pressure they'll go to areas where they are getting less pressure."
Adding to the pressure Raven 1 the helicopter. For the last year, the newly created air support unit in Pinal county has been keeping an eye from the sky in the remote desert areas. Alerting the Anti Smuggling Unit of illegal activity.
Their goal is to disrupt and dismantle the cartels who use Pinal County to cross their illegal cargo.
So citizens like Jay Stewart can feel safe.
Stewart says he's not moving, "It's my home, I'm an American. This is America. I don't run."