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Meth found behind kids’ car seats in I-17 stop

Azdailysun.com, September 13, 2013

A Department of Public Safety officer found 12 pounds of methamphetamine stashed behind two car seats occupied by twin 3-year-olds during a traffic stop this week.

The bust happened around 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on the northbound side of I-17, just north of Munds Park. According to DPS, an officer stopped a gray 2008 Ford Fusion for following another vehicle too closely during a rainstorm. The driver, who was traveling up from the Phoenix area with his 26-year-old girlfriend and her 3-year-old twin sons, told the officer he was using his mother’s car for a family trip.

The officer became suspicious and asked for permission to search the vehicle. He was assisted by a K-9 officer. During the search, he discovered 12 pounds of meth hidden behind the rear upright seat cushions, directly behind the children’s car seats. The children’s mother, who turned out to be in the country illegally, told the officer she did not know the meth was in the vehicle. She was released without charges.

DPS Sgt. Gary Phelps said it is not unusual to find marijuana during traffic stops in northern Arizona, but the high number of meth busts made by DPS in recent months is a little unusual. Phelps did not speculate about the cause of the apparent increase in meth traffic, but said most drug traffickers who are stopped near Flagstaff are just passing through.

“We’re just a thoroughfare,” Phelps said. “I-40 and I-17 are just major drug trafficking routes.”

Phelps said I-40, in particular, is popular among traffickers who want to move drugs from California to the Midwest and East Coast. He said many drug traffickers try to avoid the highways farther south in the state because they believe that is where drug enforcement is strongest.

“I think the drug traffickers feel a lot safer coming up to northern Arizona than they do traveling the I-10, which runs right along the border (with Mexico),” Phelps said.

Carlos Ritchie, 37, was arrested and charged with possession of a dangerous drug for sale and transporting or selling a dangerous drug. He was also charged with two counts of child abuse for allegedly using his girlfriend’s 3-year-old children to conceal the meth stash. He was booked into the Coconino County jail.