Broken taillight leads to discovery of $300K in suspected heroin on I-15 in Washington City

Composite image with background photo by iStock/Getty Images Plus, overlay stock photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Washington City Police arrested two men after a broken taillight led to the discovery of 7 pounds of heroin.

Digital scale at the Washington City Police Department displays weight of heroin seized on Interstate 15 at 7 pounds, Washington City, Utah, June 3, 2022 | Photo courtesy of the Washington City Police Department, St. George News

An officer was heading north June 3 on Interstate 15 near mile marker 10 shortly before 8 p.m. when he observed a broken taillight on a gray passenger car traveling in the same direction. When the car reportedly failed to move to the left as it approached a pickup truck that was disabled on the side of the roadway, a traffic stop ensued.

According to charging documents filed with the court, the officer noticed several air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror, while speaking to the driver, identified as 23-year-old Eddye Hosue Fonseca, of Tepec, Mexico, and his passenger, 30-year-old Filiberto Pacheco Rodriguez, of Las Vegas, Nevada.

The driver told police he did not have a valid driver’s license, nor did the passenger, the report states.

During the stop, the officer deployed his K-9 to conduct a free-air sniff around the perimeter of the car, which is when the animal alerted the possible presence of narcotics.

During a search of the trunk, officers recovered a total of six round bundles located in different areas: three were found inside a black portable speaker; two were tucked inside a pair of shoes found in a shoe box; and one was found in the pocket of a jacket located in a camouflage-style duffle bag.

Digital scale at the Washington City Police Department displays weight of heroin seized on Interstate 15 at 7 pounds, Washington City, Utah, June 3, 2022 | Photo courtesy of the Washington City Police Department, St. George News

All six bundles were similar in texture and appearance. Five were wrapped in electrical tape, while the sixth was wrapped in clear plastic. When one of the bundles was cut open, officers found the package contained a brown tar-like substance that tested positive for heroin during a field test conducted at the scene.

With both suspects having access to the suspected narcotics, the pair were arrested and interviewed by police; during which, both men reportedly denied having any knowledge of the suspected heroin recovered from the trunk.

The men were transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility and booked into jail, each facing one second-degree felony count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.

Fonseco also faces one misdemeanor charge of possession of paraphernalia, in addition to two traffic infractions.

Washington City Police Chief Jason Williams told St. George News that officers contacted the Washington County Drug Task Force from the scene, adding the suspected narcotics recovered had a combined street value of more than $310,000.

Heroin-related overdose deaths remain staggering

According to a 2019 report released by the Drug Enforcement Agency, heroin continues to pose a serious public health and safety threat to the United States, and an overwhelming majority of heroin that reaches the country is smuggled across the Mexican border.

While Afghanistan continues to be the largest producer of heroin worldwide, it is Mexico-sourced heroin that continues to dominate the U.S. market. The drug was responsible for more than 15,480 overdose deaths in 2017, and those numbers have been on a slight decline since the start of the fentanyl crisis in 2014, when fentanyl-related deaths rose sharply – a steady ascent that that continues to this day.

Infographic depicts number of heroin-involved overdose deaths from 1999-2017, both with and without fentanyl | Image courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Agency, St. George News

Even so, heroin contributed to more overdose deaths during that year than any other illicit drug, except fentanyl, the DEA says.

One shift that has had a devastating impact on the heroin market nationwide is directly connected to the rise in the fentanyl market – a drug that is more potent than its counterpart and one that has made its way into local heroin supplies.

In fact, by 2018, more than 40% of all retail-level heroin seized by the DEA contained fentanyl.

By adding fentanyl, traffickers are able to increase the drug’s potency – which means higher profits but also higher rates of overdose deaths.

Following the arrest in Washington City, the officer requested both suspects be held without bail, citing that neither man had any ties to Utah, but both had strong family ties in Mexico. The request was approved by the court and both suspects remain in custody on a no-bail hold.

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.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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