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By Ben Winslow
Deseret Morning News

NORTH SNYDERVILLE BASIN, Utah - Lt. Chris Simmons zips along Interstate 80, pulling behind a speeding SUV and flipping on his overhead lights.
He walks up to passenger side door and asks the driver for her license and registration, making small talk about where she was coming from and going to.
"A lot of people, their stories are weird," he said. "Sometimes it pans out to be something that you make a pipeline (drug bust) on, and other times people just have weird stories."
The woman's license and registration ultimately checked out and Simmons let her go with a warning about speeding through a canyon.
Utah Highway Patrol troopers were making simple traffic stops like this all weekend long as part of a crackdown on drug trafficking along the I-80 corridor, a major pipeline to get drugs from California and Mexico to states east of Utah.
From Thursday through Sunday, a special squad of the UHP made 320 traffic stops. Of those, 14 resulted in major drug busts and the seizure of more than 285 pounds of marijuana being trafficked from northern California to places like Colorado, Kansas, Virginia, New Hampshire and New York.
"The harvest of marijuana in northern California wrapped up and a lot of that was on its way to destination cities," Simmons said Sunday. "This is high grade marijuana. It's going to sell anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 a pound depending on the destination."
Troopers also seized $7,800 in cash headed back to California and a handgun belonging to a convicted felon.
"We take the officers that have specialized training as well as the K9s, try to bring them together for three to four days and make high volumes of traffic stops," said UHP Sgt. Steve Salas. "This is the results."
At the UHP substation in Jordanelle, the smell of marijuana is overpowering inside a conference room. Duffel bags and cardboard boxes are stuffed with pot, sealed in plastic bags.
Trafficking drugs by car has become more popular with increased security at airports, Simmons said. A driver is usually paid a couple of thousand dollars to drive cross-country. They try to cover a lot of road in a short amount of time and will drive for 24 hours straight if they have to.
Speeding, drowsy driving and other things often get the attention of a UHP trooper who will stop and ask questions. If something doesn't add up, a dog will be brought out to sniff around the car.
The success of the weekend crackdown indicates that the amount of drug trafficking on Utah's highways is large. While troopers are always alert for it in even routine traffic stops, the crackdown underscores the growing problem.
"If we had the resources in terms of manpower and staffing to do this on a more frequent basis, we believe that we could have success," UHP Col. Lance Davenport said Sunday. "Something that would be significant."
Along with the drug busts, there was also an unintended side benefit: The presence of so many troopers meant fewer crashes.

Wire Service
 
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