ST. GEORGE — A traffic stop on Interstate 15 just north of the Utah-Arizona border led to the discovery of thousands of suspected fentanyl pills, as well as synthetic fentanyl powder and methamphetamine, authorities say. Three people were arrested as a result.

While monitoring northbound traffic near the Utah-Arizona border on Interstate 15 shortly before 9 p.m. Friday, a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy noticed a black Lincoln passenger car pass by. As it did so, the deputy said he saw occupants “lean back as to avoid being seen by me,” according to the probable cause statement filed supporting the arrests. 

Suspecting possible criminal activity, the deputy began following the vehicle and noticed the license plate was not illuminated and was covered in dirt, so he initiated a traffic stop.

As the vehicle slowed down, the deputy said he saw one of the back seat passengers moving inside the car, which further raised his suspicions. Once the vehicle came to a stop, the deputy approached and spoke to the driver, 48-year-old Marcus Arthur Hanson, of Havre, Montana, who reportedly said they were headed north from Las Vegas, Nevada, and said he did not have his driver’s license, since it was in his wallet that was either “lost or stolen.” 

Also in the vehicle were front seat passenger, Breanna Dee Johannesen, 45, and back seat occupant, 27-year-old Nathan James White, both residents of Billings, Montana.

A Utah Highway Patrol trooper responded and deployed a K-9 to conduct a sniff around the exterior of the vehicle. When the K-9 reportedly indicated the possible presence of narcotics, the occupants were asked to step out of the car and a search ensued.

A plastic bag containing thousands of suspected fentanyl pills was reportedly recovered during a traffic stop on I-15 near the Utah-Arizona border in Washington County, Utah, Feb. 9, 2024 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Inside a rubberized package, officers say they found multiple pills with markings consistent with synthetic fentanyl. Deputies also recovered a large zip-close bag that was concealed in a Nerds candy bag that contained nearly 5,000 of the same blue synthetic fentanyl pills, along with more than 6 grams of what appeared to be fentanyl powder, authorities said.

When broken down into street-level sales, the pills are valued at more than $129,000, according to the DEA.

Officers also found a small rubber container that was stuffed inside the sunglasses holder that contained suspected meth.  

Agents with the Washington County Drug Task Force and the Department of Homeland Security responded to assist in the investigation. During a field test conducted at the scene, the substances suspected to be fentanyl or fentanyl powder reportedly came back positive.

During a search of White, officers recovered a credit card issued in the name of a female in the suspect’s wallet that did not belong to anyone in the vehicle.

In reference to the suspected fentanyl seizure, a recent post on the Washington County Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page states, “Our deputies are working tirelessly to fight this epidemic flooding the nation.”

The suspects were transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility and booked into jail on one second-degree felony count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, along with misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia charges. White faces an additional third-degree felony charge of unlawful possession, acquisition, transfer of a financial card.

Investigators requested all three suspects be held without bail, citing the trio is from out of state and if released would likely flee back to Montana to avoid prosecution. The request was approved and the suspects remain in custody on a no-bail hold. 

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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