WASHINGTON CITY — A loose liner in the back of a vehicle caught the attention of a police officer during an early-morning traffic stop on Hoodoo Way in Washington City. During the stop, two black bags containing several pounds of suspected methamphetamine were recovered.

Five pounds of suspected methamphetamine is recovered during traffic stop on Interstate 15 in Washington City, Utah, Dec. 6, 2023 | Photo courtesy of the Washington City Police Department, St. George News

On Wednesday shortly after midnight, a Washington City police officer was  observing traffic while stationary facing north on Interstate 15 near the St. George Boulevard exit. The officer started following a dark-colored SUV with Florida plates after witnessing a purported lane violation, according to the charging documents filed in support of the arrest.

At mile marker 13, the officer watched as the driver quickly exited the interstate proceeding south on Washington Parkway, where the report alleges the driver failed to come to a complete stop.

The SUV continued south, were it nearly struck another vehicle in the round-a-bout. The officer activated the emergency lights on his patrol vehicle and followed the SUV into the parking lot of the convenience store on North Hoodoo Way.

The officer spoke to the driver, identified as  44-year-old Thomas Vu, of Herriman City, located just southwest of Salt Lake City, who said he was driving a rental vehicle. While the officer was writing up a citation for the reported traffic violation, a K-9 deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office responded to assist.

The K-9 conducted a free-air sniff along the exterior of the SUV and alerted to the possible presence of narcotics. Officers then ordered the driver and the front-seat passenger, identified as a Salt Lake County resident, 49-year-old Mark D. Leavitt, out of the vehicle.

Purgatory Correctional Facility file photo, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 20, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

During a search of the SUV, officers noticed that the liner in the cargo area was loose, causing officers to suspect that someone had recently accessed the area behind the liner. 

“I found this very suspicious especially due to the vehicle being a rental,” the officer noted in the report, adding that rental vehicles were commonly used to smuggle illegal narcotics.

When authorities removed the panels in the cargo area they found two large black trash bags — one on each side of the vehicle. Inside of each of the bags officers found suspected methamphetamine, the report stated. 

The Washington County Drug Task Force was then called to the scene to collect the bags and other evidence. Washington City Police Chief Jason Williams confirmed with St. George News the bags had a combined weight of five pounds. 

The suspected drugs were valued at more than $130,700 when broken down into street-level sales. The two men were booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility each facing one second-degree felony count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Both are being held without bail.

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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