Police: Illegally mounted cell phone results in traffic stop, 31-pound drug seizure on I-15

Composite image with background stock photo and overlay of Washington City Police vehicle taken in Washington City, Utah, May 11, 2021 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — An SUV out of Michigan caught the attention of an officer Sunday evening on Interstate 15 in Washington City, and during the subsequent traffic stop authorities recovered more than 30 pounds of marijuana and a large amount of methamphetamine.

2020 file photo for illustrative purposes only of Washington City Police officers near Interstate 15 offramp in Washington City, Utah, Sept. 15, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Washington City Police Department, St. George News

According to the probable cause statement filed in support of the arrest, an officer was stopped on I-15 just north of mile marker 12 in Washington City watching traffic shortly before 7 p.m. Sunday when a silver SUV with Michigan plates passed his patrol vehicle heading north with a cell phone mounted to the front windshield of the vehicle.

According to Utah law, a person may not operate a motor vehicle with an object or device hanging or mounted in a manner that materially obstructs the operator’s view. As such, the officer pulled out into traffic and followed the SUV, which crossed into another lane of travel before jerking back into the proper lane.

The vehicle was stopped at mile marker 15, and the officer noticed several large black trash bags located on the back seat of the SUV as soon as he approached the vehicle. The bags were tied off at the top, which the officer noted was consistent with the packaging used to transport large amounts of marijuana.

While speaking to the driver, identified as 30-year-old Etelberto Morales-Barajas, of Muskegon, Michigan, the officer noticed the man’s hands were shaking and his voice was cracking, which reportedly led the officer to believe the suspect was extremely nervous.

The driver was placed in the patrol vehicle while the officer ran a records check and another officer arrived to assist. The report also states that when asked, Barajas said there was nothing illegal inside of vehicle and gave permission to search the SUV.

As soon as officers opened the rear hatch of the vehicle, they detected a strong odor of raw marijuana coming from inside, and when they opened one of the large trash bags located in the rear of the SUV, they found that each contained suspected marijuana packaged in smaller plastic bags.

Inside of a small black backpack located on the front driver’s seat officers found a black Glock 9mm hand gun with an extra magazine that was also loaded with ammunition.

2020 file photo of Purgatory Correctional Facility, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 21, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Officers also found several plastic bags containing marijuana inside of a suitcase recovered from underneath the spare tire, along with a second large trash bag containing the same leafy substance.

Also under the spare tire officers found a large clear plastic bag containing suspected methamphetamine that was later field tested with a total weight of one pound. The total weight of marijuana seized during the stop came out to 31 pounds.

The Washington County Drug Task Force was also called out to assist in the processing of the scene. All evidence was collected and the driver was interviewed – the details of which were not included in the report.

Barajas was transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility facing charges of second-degree felony possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance for the methamphetamine, as well as a third-degree felony possession with intent to distribute for the marijuana recovered during the stop.

The suspect also faces a third-degree felony weapons charge for having a handgun in the vehicle along with narcotics, as well as a misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia charge.

Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained.

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, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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