Two illegal aliens arrested in Thursday follow-up to Witmor Farms drug bust
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
BUCKHORN, Mo. (Feb. 19, 2010 UPDATED 6:20 p.m. Feb. 20) — Two men who told a deputy they were hunting for a lost friend are now in jail after the deputies determined that the friend’s vehicle had been involved in a previous $10.2 million drug bust early Monday morning in the Witmor Farms parking lot.
Names have not yet been released pending filing of formal charges.
According to sheriff’s records, a deputy stopped a red 2004 Dodge dual-wheeled pickup truck at 8:57 a.m. Thursday on Highway 17 near the Witmor Farms restaurant after seeing it weaving across the centerline.
The driver turned out to be a Kansas City man with nine prior convictions who hadn’t had a valid driver’s license since his Missouri license was suspended in August 2006.
“As the deputy talked to him, the gentleman made a remark that he was looking for a lost friend who was driving a black car and the deputy make the connection and called for backup,” said Sheriff J.B. King.
That backup came from Waynesville police as well as additional deputies.
“The Waynesville city drug dog was brought out to the scene; the drug dog very strongly alerted to the pickup. We are very sure that vehicle has been used as a courier vehicle as well,” King said. “There were screws missing from the wheel wells so we thought there might be hidden compartments, but we didn’t find any.”
As investigation continued, deputies determined that both the driver and the passenger were non-citizens and had no legal right to be in the United States. Both speak Spanish and deputies called for a Spanish-speaking translator at 9:22 a.m. before arresting them about 20 minutes later.
“During the investigation of this traffic stop it was determined that these two men were looking for the lost drug shipment. The Drug Enforcement Administration was called to the scene of the traffic stop and later interviewed the suspects,” King said, leading to their detention by immigration officials from Springfield.
“It was part of the conspiracy that goes back to the $10 million in drugs that were seized Monday morning,” King said. “The two men had nothing to do with the original drug load, but they were here to recover the vehicle for the cartel.”
The 2004 Dodge pickup has been seized by deputies pending filing of court documents that, based on state law, will allow deputies to seize property used in narcotics trafficking. That means the proceeds of the sale of the vehicle will go to school districts rather than the sheriff’s department.
“The feds have strict guidlines as to what they will seize and this vehicle has 212,000 miles and is beyond their limits,” King said.
Both the Monday drug bust and the Thursday arrest of people King believes are connected to the drug cartel that was using the Witmor Farms parking lot as an exchange point for the $10.2 million in cocaine and crystal meth are examples of what police can find when they stop people for what may initially appear to be minor traffic violations, King said.
“Routine traffic stops are actually a misstatement. There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop in the sense that you do not know what you have in that vehicle and in the case that we are talking about today, it is a perfect example. The deputy stopped the vehicle just for weaving and crossing the center line, which is a major cause of fatal accidents,” King said.
Most efforts to stop drivers engaged in unsafe driving practices such as weaving across the centerline don’t result in arrests of people connected to multimillion dollar drug cases, but King said enforcement of traffic laws is an important part of traffic safety education.
“The other part of this is that in the last ten years in Pulaski County, 95-plus people have died in various traffic accidents,” King said. “Our roads are booming, our traffic counts are booming, and we’re having more wrecks than ever, so traffic enforcement is something that is seriously needed.”