Dog finds meth, fentanyl in traffic stop; 2021 has been productive year for drug busts

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 — Three suspects from Colorado are sitting in jail in Washington County after officers and a K-9 team found more than six pounds of methamphetamine and a large quantity of suspected fentanyl pills during a traffic stop in Washington City early Thursday morning.

Officers in Washington City recover a large quantity of suspected narcotics and a firearm during a traffic stop in Washington City, Utah, Dec. 2, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Jason Williams, St. George News

Shortly after midnight, an officer noticed a car with a temporary registration tag out of Colorado that was stopped at the Maverick on North Hoodoo Way. The temporary registration tag appeared to have been altered, as the numbers and lettering did not match.

Once the car started heading north on Interstate 15, the officer stopped the car and while speaking to the driver, later identified as 42-year-old Felipe Paniagua, the suspect said the car did belong to him but that he was unaware the registration was expired. He also said he was not the one who forged the registration. The driver sat in the officer’s patrol vehicle while a Washington County Sheriff’s K-9 team was deployed to the scene.

When asked, Paniagua said there were no drugs in the car.

When the deputy arrived, the vehicle’s other two occupants, including the front passenger who was identified as 45-year-old John Elias Alfredo Griego, as well as Erica Yvette Martinez, 44, who was sitting in the backseat, were asked to exit the car.

The K-9 was deployed to sniff around the outside of the vehicle, and the dog indicated the possible presence of narcotics.

During a search of the car, officers found a large plastic grocery bag on the floorboard , and inside they found six individual plastic bags that contained a white crystalized substance consistent with  methamphetamine. The combined weight of the packages was more than six pounds.

Also inside of the grocery bag officers found a second clear plastic baggie that contained an estimated 1,000 pills of suspected fentanyl. In the backseat area where Martinez had been laying, the officer noted, there was another baggie of suspected methamphetamine.

Officers also recovered a handgun that was wrapped in a blue wash towel and located in the center console, which turned out to be a .45 caliber Springfield firearm, reported stolen out of Colorado.

2020 stock image of Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 21, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Detectives with the Washington County Drug Task Force were also called out and responded to the scene to interview the trio, during which both Paniagua and Martinez invoked their right to remain silent.

Meanwhile, officers learned it was allegedly Greigo who put the firearm in the center console and extra ammunition in a backpack that was also located in the car. The driver also told officers that Martinez brought the plastic shopping bag that contained the drugs with her, the report states, when the three left Colorado. Officers also learned that Martinez was on probation in Colorado.

All three were arrested and transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility and each face four second-degree felony charges, including theft, possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and possession of a firearm by a category 1 person.

In addition, Panigua also faces one third-degree felony count of using a document or license plate knowing it is forged or altered.

The officer also noted that all three pose a substantial danger to any other individual or to the community, or they would be likely to flee the state if released, and asked the court to hold the trio without bail. The order was signed later that morning and the three remain in custody in Washington County.

Washington City narcotics recoveries in 2021 – go big or go home

This is one of several large drug interceptions that have taken place over the last year for officers in Washington City.

In fact, one of the largest traffic-stop-related recovery took place on June 6, when more than $882,000 in heroin, 16 pounds of it, was seized from a vehicle. Less than two weeks later, 19 pounds of methamphetamine was recovered during another traffic stop on North Hoodoo Way.

The largest seizure of narcotics took place in July, when 21 pounds of methamphetamine and 10,000 fentanyl pills were recovered from a vehicle during a traffic stop on Washington Parkway.

In all, Washington City officers have recovered more than 76 pounds of methamphetamine, nearly 23 pounds of heroin and more than 11,000 fentanyl pills during a series of traffic stops conducted since January.

The combined street value of the narcotics that has been intercepted is estimated to be in excess of $3.2 million.

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, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!