- Associated Press - Monday, September 29, 2014

FRAKNFORT, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky county that has an unsolved killing of a police officer has been designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area by the federal government, meaning it can receive federal money for things such as officers working overtime on drug cases.

Nelson County was one of 26 counties and cities in 11 states to receive the Office of National Drug Control Policy designation on Monday. In Nelson County, Bardstown Police Officer Jason Ellis was ambushed and killed in May 2013 as he was driving home from work, a killing some have theorized was drug-related.

“Based on what we know and the leads that we have, we believe it is drug related. But we do not have the proof of that,” said Frank Rapier, executive director of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.

Ellis was driving home when he had to pull his marked police cruiser over and remove tree limbs blocking the road. When he got out, authorities said someone shot him multiple times.

“The precision of the way he was killed, it was like an assassination. It wasn’t just some random thing,” Rapier said.

Madison County, Kentucky, which is near Nelson County, was also included in the program. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell said he asked Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to include them. McConnell mentioned Ellis in a news release announcing the designation.

“I know that in Nelson County the community is still reeling from the senseless loss of Bardstown Officer Jason Ellis, who was renowned as a champion for getting drugs off our streets,” McConnell said.

About 1,000 Kentuckians die each year from fatal drug overdoses, mostly from prescription painkillers, according to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. The number of heroin overdose deaths has been rising steadily in the state because it is a cheaper alternative to prescription pain medicine, Rapier said.

He cited a recent case in Madison County where the owner of a day care center and some of her employees were arrested and charged with selling heroin. That case is still working its way through the court system, but Rapier said cases such as that “let us know we needed to be in that county.”

Congress began the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program in 1988. It currently has 28 designated areas in 47 states and Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia.

On Monday, the office added areas in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, California, Texas, New Hampshire, New York, Idaho, Oregon and Montana.

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