ST. GEORGE — Three were jailed without bail following a traffic stop early Wednesday morning. Along with a firearm hidden in the wheel well of the car, the group was linked to a string of car burglaries reported throughout Washington County, according to the Utah Highway Patrol.
On Thursday, a trooper stopped a white Hyundai Sonata on northbound Interstate 15 near mile marker 23 in Washington County shortly after midnight for an obstructed license plate and window tint violation, as alleged in charging court documents.
The driver, identified as 24-year-old Nikol Jesenia Munoz-Agudelo, reportedly told authorities she did not have a valid driver’s license.
The same held true for the two passengers, 21-year-old Yhostin Stewarth-Perdomo and Brandon Echeverria-Ortiz, 24, neither of whom possessed a valid license.
All three occupants stated they were in the area from Los Angeles. As it turned out, the Hyundai was registered to a third party out of California.
While speaking to the occupants, the trooper reportedly smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle, and also noted there was packaging for a marijuana product in the center console in plain view.
When asked, the occupants stated they did not have a medical marijuana card, which is when a search of the vehicle ensued. During a search of the trunk, officers located one automatic handgun with a loaded magazine that was reportedly concealed in the spare tire wheel well.
Homeland Security Investigations was called to the scene and determined that all three occupants were not United States citizens and each had prior deportations, making it unlawful for any of the occupants to possess a firearm due to prior convictions.
The gun found by the troopers was within reach of all occupants, the report states, although none claimed ownership.
With the help of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, troopers learned that all three individuals were suspects in a recent string of vehicle burglaries reported in Snow Canyon State Park and other locations within the county.
Inside of the Hyundai officers recovered a number of burglary tools, along with broken glass near the passenger’s side floorboard, the court records alleged. Officers also recovered a Faraday, or a bag designed to prevent cellular devices from being tracked, that police say was used to shoplift items without being detected.
Agents with Homeland Security Investigations found that Munoz had a driver’s license issued by another country that turned out to be counterfeit. They also noted the suspects ties to international criminal organizations, such as the South American Theft Group.
The driver and both passengers were arrested and transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility, each facing one second-degree felony count of possession of a dangerous weapon and a third-degree felony count possession of a firearm by a restricted person.
They also face one misdemeanor count each of possession of burglary tools, possession of marijuana and paraphernalia, and one count of theft by receiving. Munoz faces an additional third-degree felony charge of possession of a forgery device.
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.
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