ST. GEORGE – A Utah Highway Patrol trooper intercepted and arrested an alleged drug runner, who was discovered to be transporting 15 pounds of methamphetamine with a street value of around three-quarters of a million dollars, during an Interstate 15 traffic stop Tuesday.
Just before 4 p.m., a Utah Highway Patrol trooper initiated a traffic stop of a gold SUV on northbound I-15, near milepost 3, for a left lane travel violation, according to a probable cause statement filed by UHP in support of the arrest.
The trooper spoke with the driver of the SUV who was later identified as 50-year-old Emeterio Rodriguez-Banuelos, of Phoenix, Arizona, the statement said. He told the trooper the SUV he was driving belonged to a “friend’s friend.”
The trooper asked Rodriguez-Banuelos to sit in his patrol car while he checked his information. He agreed and the two engaged in conversation, the statement said. It was during that conversation that the trooper recognized Rodriguez-Banuelos’ story wasn’t lining up.
Rodriguez-Banuelos said he took a bus from Phoenix to Los Angeles to pick up the SUV so he could test drive it during a trip to Aurora, Colorado, to visit his daughter, the probable cause statement said.
“I asked him if his daughter was aware he was coming to visit her and he stated she was not but he was going to call her when he got to Colorado,” the arresting trooper wrote in the statement. “I asked him if he knew his daughter’s phone number and he stated he did not.”
According to the trooper, Rodriguez-Banuelos was having a difficult time providing answers to simple questions, so, while waiting for records to return, the trooper deployed his police narcotics K-9 on the outside of the SUV.
The trooper informed Rodriguez-Banuelos that the K-9 had indicated the presence of narcotics in the vehicle.
“The subject stated there were drugs in the car but he did not know where and how much, he was just given the vehicle to drive,” the trooper wrote.
A thorough search of the SUV was conducted, and a manufactured floor compartment was discovered in the SUV that contained 15 pounds of methamphetamine, according to the statement.
The wholesale price of 15 pounds of methamphetamine is around $150,000 to $240,000, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Jake Hicks said, with a street value of around $750,000.
Rodriguez-Banuelos was arrested and booked into the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility.
He was charged with a second-degree felony for drug possession with the intent to distribute and a class A misdemeanor for altering a vehicle compartment for contraband.
He was released from custody on $10,000 bond and is scheduled to make his initial court appearance Tuesday afternoon.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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