California man busted for felony drug possession near school, church

ST. GEORGE — A California man was arrested in St. George Sunday after police found heroin and a variety of prescription pills inside his car.

At approximately 4 p.m., St. George Police Officer Jeff Bahlmann ran the license plate of a vehicle traveling on Desert Hills Drive, Officer K. Chamberlain wrote in a probable cause statement on behalf of Bahlmann in support of the arrest. After Bahlmann ran the plates, the registration came back showing the car was registered to Derek McLaughlin, of Ramona, California.

Chamberlain advised Bahlmann that he needed to talk with McLaughlin about a possible stalking/harassment case he was working on, so Bahlmann pulled over McLaughlin’s vehicle at 3424 S. River Road, according to the statement.

Derek McLaughlin, of Ramona, California, booking photo posted March 15, 2015 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, St. George News
Derek McLaughlin, of Ramona, California, booking photo posted March 15, 2015 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

After stopping the car, Bahlmann spoke with McLaughlin, who was driving the vehicle. At that time, dispatch informed the officer that McLaughlin’s driver’s license was suspended.

A passenger was riding in the vehicle with McLaughlin. Bahlmann did not know the passenger’s involvement with the possible stalking/harassment complaint, the statement said, so he asked McLaughlin to step out of the car to speak with him away from the passenger. When McLaughlin exited the car, the officer made an interesting discovery.

“As Derek was getting out of the car I saw a syringe on the seat underneath Derek,” the statement said. “The syringe had a brown liquid in it.”

According to the statement, Bahlmann suspected the liquid to be heroin and placed McLaughlin in handcuffs and called for another unit to respond to the scene. Upon searching McLaughlin, the officer discovered a 3- to 4-inch folding knife in his right front pocket as well as a plastic grocery bag.

After McLaughlin was advised of his Miranda rights, he agreed to speak with the officer.

“He told me the syringe on the front seat was his,” the statement said. “He was getting ready to inject himself.”

McLaughlin confirmed the officer’s suspicion that the brown substance inside the syringe was heroin. He also informed Bahlmann that the plastic bag contained more heroin and prescription pills, according to the statement.

Upon checking inside the plastic bag, Bahlmann discovered it contained alprazolam and clonazepam, which are medications used to treat anxiety and panic disorders; zolpidem tartrate, a sedative used to treat sleeping problems; and suspected heroin.

When Bahlmann first saw McLaughlin and his vehicle, the statement said, McLaughlin was within 1,000 feet of Desert Hills High School and an LDS church. Both of these locations are considered drug-free zones.

“Based on that information,” the statement said, “the drug possession charges were enhanced.”

McLaughlin was arrested and booked into the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility. He was charged with one second-degree felony for possession of heroin in a drug-free zone and five class A misdemeanors: one for possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person; one each for possession of alprazolam, clonazepam and zolpidem tartrate in a drug-free zone; and one for possession of drug paraphernalia in a drug-free zone.

According to Utah court documents at the time of this report, McLaughlin was scheduled to make his initial appearance Monday in front of 5th District Judge Michael Westfall. His bail for release is set at $20,000.

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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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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