Pubdate: Sun, 08 Mar 2009
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2009 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Jon Mark Beilue
Bookmark: (Policing - United States - News)


As a public service to all my drug-running friends  packing pot and
carrying cocaine from one coast to another, here's a little
unsolicited advice: Avoid Interstate 40 in the Texas Panhandle.

Especially avoid about a 60-mile stretch east of Amarillo. If not,
don't say I didn't tell you so if your extended stay in the area
includes some down time at the Carson County Jail in Panhandle.

"We get our fair share," said Carson County Sheriff Tam 

News that a Department of Public Safety trooper made another drug
bust on I-40 around the Groom-Conway metroplex is almost like
dog-bites-man. It happens almost daily.

From Feb. 20 to 25, DPS troopers made six stops on I-40, arrested
eight from six different states, seized 1,027 pounds of marijuana,
8,000 grams of cocaine and  6,100 grams of methamphetamine at a street
value of  $1.77 million. That's just in five days.

"The reason it seems like there's so many drugs busts is that I-40 is
a major route, maybe the major route, for carrying drugs in the
country," Trooper Gilbert Medrano said.

On average, as many as 18,000 vehicles will pass through on I-40 east
of Amarillo in a 24-hour period, according to the DPS. That's more
than 12 per minute,  and it's safe to assume not all are going to
visit grandma.

Interstate 40 stretches 2,560 miles from California to  North
Carolina, and 177 of that is in the Panhandle.  From near McLean to
Conway, which is about 50 miles,  it's doubtful there's another piece
of I-40 in the  country with as many drug busts.

No doubt, DPS is probably just getting a fraction of the illegal
drugs that pass along the interstate, but what is being caught is
still impressive. In 2008,  Medrano said more than $20.2 million in
drugs and $2.4  million in cash was seized in the Panhandle, the bulk 
of that along I-40. Through two months in 2009, more than $5 million
in drugs and $356,000 in cash has been seized.

Far be it from me to lecture drug entrepreneurs out there, but if I
were hauling 500 pounds of weed from L.A. to Nashville, I'd do it in
a 1996 Chrysler Voyager mini-van with a "Child on Board" sign on the
back and a Christian radio bumper sticker. I'd be driving 60 mph 
with seat belt on, hands in the 10-to-2 position on the wheel and
make sure my headlights and taillights were working.

Medrano said a trooper can't stop a vehicle without probable cause or
reasonable suspicion. Profiling would be, you know, kinda illegal.
Once a vehicle is stopped, the game often begins, especially after a
license check.

Most troopers have gone through a criminal interdiction course. In
fact, more than a few teach the course. They enjoy putting it in
practice and troll for drug runners like a fisherman trolls for bass.

Through study of behavior, body language, and answers to
pre-determined questions, trained officers can determine pretty
quickly if Richard from Illinois is carrying a box of pecan logs from
Stuckey's or 6,000 grams of cocaine from Chicago.

"That's the biggest part of it, being able to determine who is a
normal citizen and who's involved in criminal activity," Medrano
said. "But we've arrested those with a criminal history and those
who've never been arrested in their life. "

Troopers can ask to search the vehicle. They aren't dealing with the
greatest criminal minds of our time. Some will open the trunk, and -
poof! - there it is. Some refuse, which is their right.

In that case, an officer will often call in a drug dog. As many as
three can quickly get to I-40. If there's drugs, the trained dog will
find it, and then there's the extended stay in the lockup.

Terry said about 50 to 60 percent of his Carson County Jail inmates
are I-40 travelers. Right now, he's housing five of 14, which is a
little on the low side.

So, Barry from North Carolina, Dustin and Steve from Tennessee,
Frederick from Virginia, Donna from Detroit, and Juilo and Leonardo
from Phoenix, you should have known better. Travel along I-40 in
these parts at your own risk. Getting stopped around here could be 
hazardous to your wealth.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin