ST. GEORGE — Washington City officers recovered nearly 40 pounds of methamphetamine during two separate traffic stops just days apart, following a large seizure of heroin that was recovered less than two weeks ago.
The first stop took place late Saturday when an officer on Interstate 15 was stopped on the median facing northbound traffic near mile marker 12. Shortly before 11:30 p.m., the officer noticed a black Volkswagen sedan heading north with a taillight that did not appear to be functioning, according to the probable cause statement filed in support of the arrest.
When the officer pulled out onto the interstate to stop the car, he lost sight of the vehicle that disappeared into dense traffic.
Minutes later, the Jetta with California plates was located at the Maverik station on North Hoodoo Way with the driver who was standing near the rear of the car “looking around,” the officer noted.
The driver allegedly told the officer the fuses associated with the taillights kept blowing, and he was going to fix it. He then told police he didn’t have a driver’s license and handed over his passport, which identified him as 28-year-old Rodrigo Rojas-Ibarra of South Jordan.
The driver sat in the officer’s patrol vehicle while the citation was completed, and during a casual conversation the officer noticed a number of discrepancies in the man’s story, the report states, and Rojas-Ibarra consented to a search of the vehicle while backup arrived to assist.
According to the report, inside of the trunk area, the officer noticed a large speaker box with “brand new” screws used to secure the subwoofer to the box, which appeared suspicious.
Inside of the speaker box, the officer found seven individual vacuum sealed bags, and inside of the bags was a large object bound with electrical tape, packaging that was consistent with large transports of narcotics.
The driver was handcuffed as the search continued, and underneath the spare tire officers also recovered several more packages similar to what was found in the speaker box.
The packaging was cut open and revealed a white, crystal-like substance consistent with methamphetamine, which later tested as presumptive positive during a field analysis conducted at the scene.
The 17 packages were collected and weighed at the Washington City Police Station, which revealed a total weight of some 19 pounds of suspected methamphetamine.
Officers were unable to obtain any information from the driver who asked for an attorney. He was then transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility early Sunday morning facing second-degree felony possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia. The officer also noted that the suspect had family ties to Mexico and would be considered a flight risk if released.
The estimated value of the narcotics was roughly $340,480, Washington City Police Chief Jason Williams told St. George News.
On Monday evening, an officer was again stopped on I-15 just north of the Green Springs Exit facing northbound traffic on an interdiction detail shortly before 7 p.m. when he noticed a black Nissan Altima with Colorado plates that were reportedly expired, Williams said.
After making a traffic stop, the officer spoke to the driver about the registration violation, and the suspect said he had no driver’s license, but instead provided an identification card issued out of Mexico. The driver was identified as 27-year-old Angel Ortiz-Lopez out of La Puente, California, about 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, a K-9 team from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office responded to assist and during a sniff around the exterior of the Nissan, the dog indicated to the possible presence of narcotics, Williams said.
During a search of the car, officers removed the spare tire from the trunk and as they did so, they felt something solid moving around inside of the tire.
When the tire was cut open, Williams said, they found 19 vacuum-sealed bags that contained suspected meth, and the powder later tested positive for the narcotic during a field analysis. The bags were then weighed and each weighed one pound. Lopez was arrested and transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility facing second-degree felony distribution charge, as well as misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia. He also faces an infraction for driving without a license and expired registration.
The combined street value of the meth seized between the two traffic stops was more than $681,000.
This is the third large narcotics recovery for officers in Washington City over the last two weeks. On June 6, more than 16 pounds of heroin was located and seized during a traffic stop of a vehicle that took place near the same convenience store on North Hoodoo Lane.
In that case, the driver appeared to have created a diversion by having the passenger go into a store carrying a backpack that contained the narcotics while the driver blew a stop sign in front of the officer, according to a police report.
After the police pulled over the car, officers located the passenger at the store and brought her back to the car. The backpack she was wearing was searched, which is when officers found 12 large bundles, each wrapped in electrical tape, under which officers found vacuum sealed bags containing a black tar-like substance that later field-tested positive for heroin.
The street value of the heroin seized exceeds $882,000, Williams said, and combined with the more recent cases, more than $1.5 million in narcotics was intercepted by officers in Washington City and placed into evidence — instead of reaching the intended destinations.
Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained.
This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. 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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