Officer finds 4 explosive devices during traffic stop in Washington City

In this 2019 file photo a Washington County Bomb Squad technician is at Frontier Drive where an old crate containing dynamite was found, Washington City, Utah, March 22, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —A St. George man is being held without bail following a traffic stop where officers in Washington City found four explosive devices that were confiscated by the bomb squad. This is one of several incidents involving the suspect, including one in January that severely injured a four-year-old boy.

Logan Michael Mertlich, 36, of St. George, booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, Feb. 27, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

The arrest stems from an incident that began shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday, when a patrol officer in Washington City observed a white passenger vehicle turn onto Telegraph from the parking lot of a gas station without using a turn signal, according to a probable cause statement filed in support of the arrest.

The officer ran the license plate, which showed no proof of insurance, and initiated a traffic stop as the car headed east on Telegraph. While speaking to the driver and sole occupant of the vehicle, later identified as 36-year-old Logan Mertlich of St. George, the officer detected the odor of burned marijuana.

The officer also noticed a clear baggie containing what appeared to be marijuana and a glass pipe near the center console and called for backup to assist with the stop. The driver, who was attempting to find proof of insurance on his phone, which he eventually failed to find, was asked to exit the car as additional officers pulled up to the scene. The driver told officers he did not have a medical card authorizing him to use marijuana but did have a note from his doctor.

When asked if he had any weapons, the suspect said he didn’t, except maybe a “large knife,” the officer noted in the report.

It was during a search of the suspect’s vehicle that officers reportedly recovered “a white box with what appeared to be home-made explosives,” the officer noted, including four cylindrical objects with what looked to be an electrical fuse coming from each of the cylinders.

The suspect “had been known to make home-made explosives,” the officer wrote, and during questioning Mertlich, “confirmed that the objects were indeed explosives.”

The report also states the suspect explained to police he had made the devices using black powder and that making explosives “was a hobby” of his.

A member of the Washington County Bomb Squad arrived on scene shortly after and took custody of all four devices.

The report also noted the suspect has been arrested for several prior incidents involving explosives, including one that caused serious injury to a child.

Washington City Police Chief Jason Williams told St. George News that this same suspect was involved in an incident back in January, when the suspect’s four-year-old son was severely injured after one of the devices reportedly made by Mertlich exploded in the child’s hand and “blew it off,” Williams said.

In this 2015 file photo a remote-controlled robots is used by the Washington County bomb squad, St. George, Utah, Nov. 12, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

During interviews conducted through the course of the investigation, Williams said detectives learned the child was allegedly instructed to throw the device but it blew up in his hand before he was able to release it.

Williams also said that once the investigation was completed, the detective submitted a complaint against Mertlich and one other individual to the Washington County Attorney’s Office for review.

Washington County Prosecutor Ryan Shaum confirmed with St. George News that a complaint outlining the incident was received and is currently under review by their office. He also said charges are likely forthcoming, but added he could not provide any further details since the suspect has yet to be formally charged in the incident.

The probable cause statement outlining Saturday’s arrest also mentions a 2018 incident involving explosive devices the suspect “personally constructed.”

In that case, the suspect allegedly detonated a device on the football field of Crimson Cliffs High School that was under construction at the time.

Officers were dispatched to the high school when the superintendent of the construction company contacted police reporting he was working on the property on Aug. 22, 2018 when he heard an explosive on the south end of the field between 8 and 9 that same morning.

The foreman also reported seeing Mertlich filling a 16-ounce water bottle full of diesel fuel he took from the construction company’s fuel tank located on the property the previous day. He also told police he didn’t think very much about it until he heard from other construction workers the following day that a device was constructed using a 16-ounce water bottle filled with diesel fuel and fertilizer secured with a blasting cap.

The suspect was asked to leave when he was terminated from his employment at the site and was trespassed from the property. The superintendent also told officers he feared the suspect would return with more explosive devices and cause further problems and destruction on the site.

When investigators surveyed the detonation site they noted there was evidence of an explosion and found several pieces of melted plastic consistent with a detonation, along with black residue found on a white blasting cap that had a hole punched through at the top to purportedly insert some type of ignition device.

Officers tracked down Mertlich, and he was transported to the Washington City Police Department and questioned by detectives. Shortly after, he was booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility facing second-degree felony recklessness-incendiary device, theft and drug charges.

During a search of the suspect’s residence, officers recovered several pounds of materials to make explosives that were later confiscated by authorities. Months later, Mertlich pleaded guilty to the recklessness-incendiary device charge and was fined $172 and placed on 36 months’ probation during a sentencing hearing held in January the following year.

The charge was reduced to a misdemeanor in March 2020 and he was released from probation.

Following Saturday’s arrest, the suspect was transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility facing second-degree felony count of recklessness-incendiary device and third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance for what appeared to be marijuana, methamphetamine and psychedelic mushrooms allegedly found during the search of the car.

The officer also requested that Mertlich be held without bail — citing a substantial amount of evidence to support the charge and the “clear and convincing evidence” the suspect would constitute a substantial danger to the community or would likely flee the jurisdiction of the court if released.

The request was approved, according to the bail order signed by District Judge Keith C. Barnes Sunday.

As such, the suspect remains in custody without bail.

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, 2021, all rights reserved.

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