ST. GEORGE — A broken headlight and slow driving in the fast lane caught the attention of an officer and led to the discovery of a hidden compartment during a search of the vehicle and charges against two women from Littlefield, Arizona.

Baggies containing suspected fentanyl pills are recovered from a hidden compartment in a vehicle during a traffic stop on Pioneer Road in St. George, Nov. 17, 2023 | Photo courtesy of the Washington City Police Department, St. George News

In the compartment, officers reportedly found baggies containing hundreds of suspected fentanyl pills and methamphetamine.

On Nov. 17, an officer observing traffic while facing northbound on Interstate 15 less than a mile from the Utah-Arizona border noticed a silver passenger car heading north with a headlight out shortly after 7 p.m. The officer saw a line of vehicles traveling behind the slower-moving passenger car in the fast lane and “delaying the normal flow of traffic,” even though the lane for slower traffic was clear. 

According to charging documents filed in 5th District Court, the officer followed the passenger car as it exited the interstate onto Brigham Road and continued onto Pioneer Road heading north. The officer stopped the car near the corner of Man O War Road in St. George.  

While speaking to the driver Yarely Rosas, 32, the officer noticed a woman in the front seat,  Debra Kay Fountain, 44. The driver reportedly told the officer she had no identification on her, and while exiting the car, she reportedly dropped a container of suspected marijuana wax, which is when the officer requested backup and deputies with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office responded to assist. 

A K-9 was deployed to conduct a free-air sniff around the exterior of the car and when the animal indicated to the possible presence of narcotics, the vehicle was searched.

In the front passenger door compartment officers located a small black bag that contained two plastic bags with approximately 50 pills consistent with fentanyl, along with suspected methamphetamine in a third plastic bag. 

As the search continued, the officer found a piece of carpet secured with Velcro to the bottom of the center console, which he suspected was an aftermarket modification that concealed a hidden compartment. Once inside, they found several more plastic bags containing more than 100 suspected fentanyl pills, along with a second bag that reportedly contained methamphetamine.

Three vials containing heroin, carfentanil and fentanyl to show the potency rate between the substances | Photo courtesy of the Drug Enforcement Agency, St. George News

The report said Rosas told officers that she and Fountain both were selling drugs to pay the rent but said the baggies recovered from the make-shift compartment in the center console were hers. Fountain told police that while she may have known the drugs were in the car, only the glass pipe was hers. The narcotics were collected as evidence by police.

Both suspects were transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility each facing second-degree felony possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, along with misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia.

Rosas also faces one third-degree felony count of facilitating to store, conceal or transport contraband for the hidden compartment found in the center console.

Fentanyl plays major role in the wave of overdose deaths across the US

The overdose crisis has reached new heights across the country — with more than 107,000 people dying over the last year from drug overdoses and nearly 70% of those deaths involved synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Drug-related deaths are killing Americans at an unprecedented rate, said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram in a statement recently released by the department.

Milgram went on to write, “Already this year, numerous mass-overdose events have resulted in dozens of overdoses and deaths,” adding it is the drug traffickers who are driving addiction and increasing their profits by mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs.

“Tragically, many overdose victims have no idea they are ingesting deadly fentanyl until it’s too late.”

The DEA reports that 7 out of every 10 pills seized contain a lethal dose of fentanyl – roughly 2 mg of the drug that can fit on the tip of a pencil, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of DEA, St. George News

Utah has not escaped the scourge brought about by the influx of fentanyl. In fact, the rate of overdose deaths involving the synthetic opioids is even higher than the national average — with fentanyl contributing to 74% of the 541 overdose deaths across the Beehive state during last year alone.

In 2022, the DEA, seized nearly 60 million fentanyl-laced fake pills and more than 13,200 pounds of fentanyl powder, which combined is equivalent to more than 396 million lethal doses of fentanyl.

That is more than enough fentanyl to kill the entire population of the United States.

So far this year, more than 62 million fentanyl pills have been seized — already exceeding last year’s numbers. Additionally, laboratory testing indicates 7 out of every 10 pills seized by the DEA contain a lethal dose of fentanyl, which is roughly 2 mg of the drug that can fit on the tip of a pencil. 

Following the arrests, both suspects remain in jail on $50,000 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.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.