CHESTER -- Troy Killian thought he'd die the night a drug deal went bad. Instead, he was robbed and walked away.
But it didn't stop him from hauling drugs.
He didn't stop when others broke into his home countless times in search of his drug stash. When a pal met a drug-related end. When friends went to prison.
He could make $700 every two or three days by trafficking drugs.
"The money," Killian said. "I was still living the fast life."
After two decades and multiple drug-related arrests, the 37-year-old whom Chester police call a drug lord is facing a lengthy prison sentence.
"I'm facing life 'cause I have two or more prior convictions," Killian said. "I'm too old for me even to be doing a life sentence. It's a scary thing."
On June 5, Killian pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine, said his attorney, Ken Mathews of Columbia.
The guilty plea stems from a May 31, 2007, undercover drug sting after which Killian was charged with trafficking cocaine, according to a report from the Chester County Sheriff's Office. Killian remains free on bond, Mathews said, and sentencing is expected within the next couple of months.
He could get 20 years. Or life in prison.
For now, Killian spends what could be his last free time with his five children. He readily admits: It didn't have to be that way.
"I know now it's better to go to work on a 40-hour work week," he said.
Killian is one of six men, arrested within the year, whom Chester authorities refer to as drug lords, said investigator Scott Thompson of the Chester County Sheriff's Office. One case, including Killian's case, is in federal court; four others are pending in state court.
Staring down death
Killian said he lived a fast life with easy money over the past two decades. He once made so much money dealing drugs that he didn't cash the paychecks from his assembly job.
He was robbed, stared down death and lost friends who were jailed or killed. None of it stopped him from hauling drugs.
In hindsight, he said, that lifestyle wasn't worth spending the rest of his life in jail.
Killian is an example of someone who makes a career of hauling drugs, police said.
"It was a personal lifestyle choice," Thompson said. "Killian made a bad decision. He comes from good parents, had an education and a job, but he chose to sell drugs.
"The whole situation is sad."
George Jake "Troy" Killian Jr. grew up with both parents working outside their Chester home.
He graduated in 1990 from Chester High School, he said, then went to work in construction -- moving out of his parents' home and into a Chester area known for drug activity.
But bad weather left Killian without work, he said, and he didn't know about unemployment benefits.
He needed money, so he took a trip with some friends.
"They drove me to Charlotte, and we got some drugs," he recalled. "We started selling in Chester and the Rock Hill area. It was a way of surviving."
When he got a job at a local pool hall, he stopped selling drugs -- but he was still around them.
When that pool hall closed, Killian landed a job at another nearby pool hall -- a move that forever changed his life.
"That's when I started selling drugs on my own," Killian said. "There was so much money out there to be made.
"I remember crack cocaine had just hit the scene. I had just met this guy in Charlotte, where I could take $20 and came back (to Chester) and make $100. When I first started out, I was making about $700 every two to three days."
His conscience didn't bother him, and a warning from a man who didn't deal drugs failed to grab Killian's attention.
"'You got to be crazy to be in this line of work and not be scared,'" the man told Killian. "I wasn't scared. It took me a long time."
Lengthy criminal record
The idea of a prison sentence didn't scare Killian, who said he has been arrested more than 10 times on drug-related charges for nearly 20 years.
Killian's criminal history, according to State Law Enforcement Division, reflects that:
• He was charged with possession of crack cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia in July 1993, but he was not convicted.
• In December 1995, authorities charged him with distribution of crack cocaine and conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. Both charges also brought no convictions, according to SLED.
• Seven months later, Killian was charged with possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. That charge ultimately led to a one-year probation.
Once on probation, Killian said, he stopped selling drugs, got a job and sought counseling to end his addiction to marijuana.
"I was broke, but I felt good," said Killian, who found a job doing assembly work at businesses in Chester and Charlotte. "I was free."
But that freedom was fleeting.
"After I got off work, I'd ride to Atlanta to pick up drugs," he recalled. "At some point, I wasn't cashing my checks. I didn't need the money at the time."
After his probation ended, he started not caring about his job, resulting in his Chester boss firing him. He was laid off from his Charlotte job.
Killian just didn't care.
"'Cause I was back to selling drugs," he said. "I regret it now."
Over the next three years, SLED records show, Killian would be charged with nine more drug charges -- from simple possession of marijuana to dealing drugs near a church or school.
It was a simple possession of marijuana charge in May 2001 that led to a 30-month jail sentence, Killian said.
But even that didn't bother Killian.
"I was going to come back and sell more drugs," he said, "and not just a little bit."
Killian got out of jail in August 2003 and returned to selling drugs, he said.
Just four months later and days before Christmas, police charged Killian with possessing 28 grams or less of marijuana or 10 grams or less of hash.
Around the same time, Killian said, six of his friends were indicted on drug charges in federal court and sent to prison.
Even that didn't get his attention, he said -- he was living the fast life.
People who choose to haul and sell drugs as a means of making ends meet are attracted to the quick buck, Thompson said -- so much so that they continue even after they are busted on drug-related charges.
"You got the easy money," the Chester investigator said. "You got the crowd coming around. Your phone is ringing all the time, and you're the popular guy in the neighborhood."
But racking up felony drug charges brings consequences, Thompson said, because those facing such charges find it difficult to land decent jobs.
So they go back to selling drugs.
"They're stuck," Thompson said. "They do what they have to do to support their families. It's an easy way out, but it's not the right choice. They're selling drugs to someone else's kid to support their kids.
"They're assisting in destroying other people's lives."
Killian learned how to haul drugs to avoid being caught.
He would frequently change the cars he used to pick up drugs, he said, stashing drugs in the trunk or in a suitcase. Other times he'd keep them wrapped around his waist.
"I prayed for safety," he said. "I was pretty hot. I had to be cautious."
Cautious of the bad guys and the cops.
But not too cautious that he appeared nervous, he said.
"I had been trained to haul drugs, to transport," Killian said. "I learned a long time ago, don't get scared and panic. If you show any sign of panic, you're already 90 percent caught."
Sometimes, another person -- a "runner" -- would pick up the drugs for Killian, but he did most of his own hauling from Atlanta.
"If I got to Greenville, around that area, I felt safe," he said.
There were some close calls, as in 2006 when he came upon a police roadblock after leaving Greenville."I had the drugs on me," said Killian, who was riding with a cousin that time. "My cousin showed his driver's license, and I was sitting on the passenger side. He showed his papers, and he came on through."
In another instance, he said, a drug buy went bad. Killian was robbed by the drug buyer.
"I didn't know what was going to happen," he said. "He wanted to kill me. I was telling him he didn't have to kill me over a little bit of money. He let me leave with half the money."
His house was a constant target.
"Someone was always looking to take my stash," he said. "My house always got broken into."
When one drug arrest put Killian in jail on weekends, it didn't stop him from dealing."I thought I could get away with it," he said. "I was surviving. The money -- I did whatever I wanted to do. I didn't have to ask nobody for nothing. I always had my own."
But the end was coming.
On Oct. 11, 2006, Killian sold nearly 14 grams of crack to an undercover officer. A subsequent search of Killian's home at the time turned up 81 grams of cocaine and 58 grams of crack, with a street value of more than $3,000, according to a police report from Chester County Sheriff's Office.
Killian landed a two-year probation in that case, Killian said.
At last, an epiphany
Finally, May 31, 2007, came.
Killian sold more than 10 grams of cocaine during another undercover sting, according to a police report. He was charged with trafficking cocaine.
"I knew I was in trouble because of the previous charge," he said. "I knew then it was going to be big trouble for me."
A judge initially denied bond in the case. Then in July 2007, Killian posted bail and was released from jail.
It was the wake-up call he had missed for nearly two decades.
He distanced himself from drugs -- once and for all, he said.
"I stopped selling them," he said. "I got them away from me. I learned my lesson not to mess with cocaine because it was leading me to life imprisonment."
A year later, Killian spends what little time he might have left between work and his children.
And he waits, knowing he could go away forever.