From dream vacation to a nightmare | Americans face prison time for accidentally bringing ammo to Caribbean island

In September, the U.S. Embassy warned travelers to check their luggage for stray ammunition.

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TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS, — Here’s another warning for Americans traveling to the Caribbean for a tropical vacation.

The territory of Turks and Caicos has enacted strict laws for carrying guns or ammunition. These new laws carry a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 12 years for offenders.

Now according to a report from CBS News’ Kris Van Cleaf, an Oklahoma man is facing prison time after he says he was arrested when airport security found bullets in his luggage.

According to the report, airport security found four bullets in Ryan Watson’s carry-on baggage when he and his wife Valiere were set to travel back to Oklahoma on April 12.

“This went from what was supposed to be a dream vacation to a nightmare,” the father of two said.

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Van Cleaf asked Watson how he forgot about the bullets in his bag.

“It’s a fair question,” Watson said. “The best of my knowledge have to assume that it happened while taking a trip to Texas to hunt deer.”

Bryan Hagerich from Pennsylvania is awaiting trial after bullets were found in his checked bag in February, according to the report.

“I subsequently spent eight nights in their local jail,” Hagerich said. “Some of the darkest, hardest times of my life, quite frankly.”

A warning to travelers on @CBSMornings…as some American tourists are now facing potential lengthy prison sentences in Turks and Caicos for what they say was accidentally leaving ammo in their luggage.

Hear from an Indiana man who spent months locked — Kris Van Cleave (@krisvancleave) April 24, 2024

Possessing ammunition is prohibited in Turks and Caicos.

Tourists used to be able to pay a fine until that changed in February. At that time, a court order mandated even tourists leaving the country be subject to prison time.

Now, that includes at least eight Americans.

Michael Grim from Indiana was sentenced to five months in prison by that judge after he pleaded guilty to having ammo in his checked bag last year, according to the report.

“The judge’s sentencing was completely predicated on the fact that I was an American,” Grim said.

Grim said being imprisoned has left him exposed to the environment 24/7.

“Mosquitoes and tropical illnesses are a real concern,” he said.

In September, the U.S. Embassy warned travelers to check their luggage for stray ammunition.

Travel warning for Turks and Caicos Islands from U.S. Embassy

“Firearms, ammunition, and other weapons are not permitted in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). TCI authorities strictly enforce all firearms related laws. The penalty for traveling to TCI with a firearm, ammunition, or other weapon is a minimum custodial sentence of twelve (12) years.

“We wish to remind all travelers that declaring a weapon in your luggage with an airline carrier does not grant permission to bring the weapon into TCI and will result in your arrest.

“We strongly encourage you to carefully check your luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before departing for TCI. If you bring a firearm or ammunition into TCI, we will not be able to secure your release from custody. You are subject to TCI laws and must follow local law enforcement procedures.

“Before traveling to TCI, please review the updated TCI Travel.State.Gov page to learn more about restrictions on traveling with firearms.

“If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately.”

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