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Snowstorm in Southern Utah

November 20, 1992, was one of those days that most Utah Highway Patrol troopers dread. Snow covered roads meant a long day of accidents, ambulances, wreckers and reports. Trooper Larry Orton was called from home to assist in this marathon of madness.

Trooper Orton had already responded to one accident on Interstate 15 when he was advised of a rollover involving a Ryder truck. Arriving at the scene, Trooper Orton saw two black males. One of them identified himself as Dennis Glynn Haines and stated he was the driver of the truck. When asked for the rental agreement, Mr. Haines said that he had left it in California. The other man said he was a passenger and identified himself as Phillip Wayne Schley. The Ryder truck displayed Utah registration; however, the registration card found in the truck showed: Ryder Truck Rental Inc., 3600 Northwest 82nd Avenue, Miami, Florida 33166. The driver stated that he was moving his belongings from Santa Fe Springs, California, to Detroit, Michigan.

Both subjects were very nervous, particularly when Trooper Orton walked around the vehicle, surveying the damage. Looking into the top of the Ryder truck which had ripped open on impact, Trooper Orton could see several U-Haul boxes. Noting this inconsistency, U-Haul boxes in a Ryder truck, Trooper Orton’s suspicions increased. Trooper Orton also saw fresh tracks in the snow, leading away from the accident. Whoever had made the tracks had made several trips back and forth from the Ryder truck.

Trooper Orton began to complete the necessary paperwork for an accident report. During the investigation, Trooper Orton found the rental agreement. The Ryder truck had been rented on November 19th at Santa Ana, California, by a Harold Lozano, Downey, California. The rental agreement was a one-way rental to Jersey City, New Jersey. The $2,230.22 rental fee had been paid in cash. Looking at the furniture in the truck, Trooper Orton did not feel that the furniture was worth anywhere close to that amount.

At this point Trooper Orton requested back-up. Sergeant Rich Payton, Iron County Sheriff’s Office responded to assist. A computer check was conducted by Trooper Orton and it showed a criminal history on the passenger for assault with a firearm. Both the driver and passenger were frisked for weapons by Sergeant Payton and Trooper Orton. Trooper Orton then advised Mr. Haines as to his findings regarding the rental agreement and how they were not consistent with Mr. Haines’ previous statements. Mr. Haines stated that the rental agreement should have listed Detroit, Michigan, not New Jersey as the final destination.

Trooper Orton knew that rental trucks are often used to haul large quantities of illegal drugs. Drug dealers tell the drivers: Do not speed; do not stop at Port of Entries; and if stopped by the police, cooperate in every way. If the police ask for consent to search, always say yes. When a state trooper opens the back and looks at 30 feet of stacked furniture, he will change his mind about a search.

At this time, Trooper Orton was advised of another accident with multiple injuries and people laying in the roadway. Trooper Orton responded and asked Sergeant Payton to stay with the Ryder truck. Sergeant Dave Excell, Utah Highway Patrol, also responded to the injury accident scene to assist Trooper Orton. While at the Ryder accident scene, Sergeant Payton also saw the tracks which lead up the hillside. He further noticed that the shoes worn by Haines and Schley matched these tracks. Sergeant Payton saw that the tracks went north for about fifty yards, up a fence line, across a frontage road and into weeds east of the freeway.

As soon as Sergeant Excell was able, he responded to the accident scene involving the Ryder truck. Following the tracks in the snow, Sergeant Excell found a large box filled with packages similar in appearance to packages he had seen in the past, that contained cocaine. Haines and Schley were immediately arrested. Sergeant Excell photographed and documented his findings. The Ryder truck was taken by wrecker to the Iron County Sheriff’s Office, as were the items found by Sergeant Excell.

Agent Garth Wilkinson, Utah Division of Investigation, and Iron County Attorney, Scott Burns, were summoned to assist in the investigation. Trooper Orton, Sergeant Payton, and Mr. Burns completed an information, affidavit, and a search warrant. These papers were signed before Judge Braithwaite. Armed with a search warrant, the officers descended on the Ryder truck. The entire search was video taped, inventoried, and witnessed by several officers.

Agent Wilkinson took one of the packages found by Sergeant Excell, cut it open with a knife and found a white powder substance. He then performed a field test on the powder which indicated positive for cocaine.

During the search of the Ryder truck, a black suitcase with a combination lock was found. The driver, Mr. Haines, admitted that the suitcase was his and gave the officers the combination. Inside the suitcase was a map of the United States with two routes marked. Both routes started at Los Angeles, with a northern route of I-15 and I-70 and a southern route of I-40. Both routes ended at New Jersey.

Almost all of the furniture had to be removed to get to the front of the truck where the U-Haul boxes were located. The U-Haul boxes found in the vehicle were of the same type found by Sergeant Excell in the snow, no surprise here. There were 12 boxes which were marked, “40 Red,” “40 Blue,” or “40 Green.” One box was marked “20.” Inside the boxes were individual packages which had been packed in coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are often used to mask or cover the odor of cocaine. Each box that was marked “40” contained, 40 kilograms of cocaine. The box marked “20” contained 20 kilograms of cocaine.

This seizure totaled 500 kilograms of cocaine. A kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds. These peace officers were looking at 1,100 pounds of cocaine. On the streets, a gram of cocaine sells for $80 to $120. There are 454 grams to a pound. Also, drug dealers frequently cut pure cocaine as much as 50 percent or more. Taking an average street value of $100 per gram, the street value of this seizure was $99,880,000. At the time, this was the largest cocaine seizure in Utah history.

Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration responded, as well as additional agents from the Utah Department of Public Safety, Division of Investigation. Haines and Schley agreed to cooperate and assist in a sting operation. The destination of this load was New York City. Haines had completed a similar trip on November 17th and he was paid $45,000 for that trip. He started out on November 19th with this load and wrecked near Cedar City on November 20th. On November 21st, the two suspects plus three Utah peace officers flew to New York with the DEA. On November 23rd, four people were arrested in New York as a result of this investigation.