Officer recovers more than 10 pounds of suspected fentanyl pills during traffic stop on I-15

ST. GEORGE — A recent bust that yielded thousands of fentanyl pills valued at more than $900,000 during a traffic stop on Interstate 15 in Washington City underscores the battle being waged by law enforcement agencies across the state against the highly potent and highly fatal drug.

Eight packages of suspected fentanyl pills weighing more than 10 pounds are recovered by Washington City Police officer on northbound Interstate 15 in Washington City, Utah, July 23, 2023 | Photo courtesy of the Washington City Police Department, St. George News

 Jesus Adrian Valdez Vidales, 35, of Denver, Colorado, was arrested Sunday and booked into jail shortly after midnight facing second-degree felony possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. 

The arrest stems from a traffic stop on I-15 when a red vehicle was heading north and passed a Washington City Police officer who was also heading north near the St. George Boulevard exit in Washington County. The officer noticed the car’s window tint was darker than the 30 percent tint that is legal in Utah. 

The officer stopped the vehicle near the Washington Parkway exit of northbound I-15 for a possible window tint violation.  

While speaking with the driver, identified as Vidales, who handed over his ID card issued out of Sinaloa, Mexico, the officer also noted there was a front-seat passenger and a juvenile sitting in the backseat, along with an open bottle of alcohol that was resting on the passenger’s side floorboard of the vehicle. 

The driver told police he spoke no English, which is when a bilingual Washington County Sheriff’s deputy responded to assist. 

After issuing a written warning for the window-tint violation, officers conducted a “consent” search of the vehicle. They found the spare tire off to the side on top of a suitcase. While checking the tire compartment, officers found a large black plastic bag that appeared to have been soaked in gasoline, which officers suspected was presumably used to mask the odor of illegal narcotics.

Inside the bag they found eight large packages wrapped in black packing tape. When the packages were cut open, officers found “thousands” of blue-colored pills with labeling consistent with fentanyl. 

The packages had a combined weight of approximately 8 pounds, prompting a response from the Washington County Drug Task Force. 

Washington City Police Chief Jason Williams told St. George News that later, when the packages were weighed and processed for evidence, the total combined weight came out to more than 10 pounds. He also said that the packages, if sold separately, had a combined value of more than $900,000.

During an interview with police, the driver told investigators that only he was responsible for anything found inside the car, adding the two passengers – a mother and her minor daughter –were not involved in any way. 

Following the interview, both passengers were released by police and no further information regarding the interview with the driver was outlined in the report. 

Investigators requested that Vidales be held without bail, citing the quantity of drugs that were found in the vehicle, as well as the suspect’s lack of any ties to the United States. The suspect’s family lives in Mexico, according to the request to the order to hold the suspect without bail that was later signed by District Judge Keith C. Barnes on Monday morning.

The ‘Faces of Fentanyl’ memorial wall is located in the Drug Enforcement Agency headquarters in Arlington, Va., date not specified | Image courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Agency, St. George News

The case was turned over to the Washington County Attorney’s Office for review and the suspect remains in custody without bail.

Fentanyl is killing Americans at catastrophic rates

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA),  fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat the nation has ever encountered.

The same holds true for Utah – a state that has battled a series of opioid overdose epidemics that were unleashed in three separate waves. The first was driven by the increase in prescription opioids in the late 1990s, followed by the second wave that kicked off in 2010 and involved a spike in overdose deaths involving heroin, according to the Utah Department of Health.

The third is a deadly and ongoing wave that involves synthetic opioids such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which is extremely potent – more potent than other opioids, including oxycodone and heroin.

Since 2018, the number of fentanyl seizures and fentanyl-related deaths has continued to climb across the Beehive state, prompting health officials to issue a warning to all Utahans and to raise public awareness of the existence of counterfeit pills that are easy to purchase, are widely available and often contain deadly doses of fentanyl due to unpredictable dosing. These factors can leave many, especially adolescents and teens, completely unaware of the risks.

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, 2023, all rights reserved.

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