Drug crimes a constant in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Drug crimes a constant in Eagle County

Veronica Whitney

EAGLE COUNTY – A year and a half ago, police arrested two people who had just harvested about 300 pounds of marijuana near the Reudi Reservoir, in the southwest end of the county. Last summer, police busted a man who had converted two bedrooms of his Vail home into a marijuana growing area.Drug distribution has become one of the top felony crimes in the county, said Eagle County Det. Mike McWilliam, supervisor of the Eagle County Drug Task Force. And among drug-related crimes, distribution of cocaine has increased in the past years, McWilliam said.”It appears that a lot of that is associated with Mexican nationals who are bringing it from Mexico and distributing it in the valley,” McWilliam said. “They can get it very cheap on the border, bring it here and sell it for much more.”The biggest problem is powder cocaine as opposed to crack cocaine, McWilliam said.Dealers can get between $750 to $1,000 for an ounce of cocaine – 28 grams – while a gram can cost $50 to $100 depending on the quality, McWilliam.”There’s a lot of distribution in bars,” he added. A drug that concerns police even more, methamphetamine – now prevalent in Grand Junction, Denver and elsewhere in the rural West – is not common in Eagle County, McWilliam said. “There’s more cocaine here, which is better because people taking meth tend to be more violent and paranoiac than those taking cocaine,” he said. “Meth is also worse for your health.”Drug loadWhen he worked for the drug task force two years ago, Eagle County Deputy Brian Hollenbaugh said he was surprised with how much drug use there is in the county.”There seems to be more activity in dealing and consumption,” Hollenbaugh said.Consumption was widely spread among people of different incomes, he added.”There’s no discrimination. Drugs don’t discriminate,” Hollenbaugh said.To Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy, residents in the valley need to get away from the idea that drugs aren’t a problem here. “We have the same law enforcement issues that big cities have. We have the same type of crime,” Hoy said.Since he became sheriff in 2002, Hoy said he’s seen an increase in drug activity in the county. “There seems to be a higher prevalent consumption in resorts communities,” Hoy said.From July 2002 through June 2004, police arrested 113 people in drug-related to crimes in Eagle County, McWilliam said.”Half of those arrests were for distribution and half for possession,” he added.And in half of those cases, the drug involved was cocaine. In the winter, the so-called “rave drugs” – hallucinogenics like ecstasy that come mostly from Boulder and Denver – appear in the valley with the snowboarders, McWilliam said.The cocaine tends from Texas and California, while marijuana, comes from Mexico or is grown indoors locally, McWilliam said.”And then you also have prescription drugs,” he added. “The ones referred as controlled substances are the ones that can be addictive – such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Valium.”Some high school students also huff glue or gasoline and that can be very damaging to the brain,” McWilliam added.Capt. Barry Bratt with the Colorado State Patrol said his officers are seeing a lot of methamphetamine moving west toward Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction.”Some people dump their meth labs when the road gets shut down,” Bratt said. “That’s an indication of what’s going up and down the roadway.”Curbing the problemDistrict Attorney Mark Hurlbert said he’s seeing more people dealing greater amounts of drugs. “Before, we had people dealing in grams, now, we have them dealing in ounces,” Hurlbert said.But Hoy said the drug task force is constantly doing criminal investigations and arresting people who are distributing the drugs in Eagle County.”If you want to do the crime better be prepared to do the time if you get caught,” he said.”People perceive they are being careful and won’t get caught,” Hoy added. “A simple traffic stop can lead to a drug bust. Users and dealers don’t understand what the consequences can be if they get caught.”There’s a range of penalties facing those who are convicted of a drug crime. For trafficking, a “class 2″ felony, somebody could get up to 48 years in prison. For dealing, depending on the drug, the penalty could be up to 32 years in prison. For possession the sentence depends on the type of drug and them amount. In some of the most serious cases, someone could be sentenced to up to 16 years in prison.”Unless there’s a large amount – over an ounce of cocaine or meth – there’s no mandatory prison for them,” Hurlbert said.”We try to hurt the dealers,” he added. “We look for probation for people who are using. We look for prison for those dealing, especially those dealing for profit or on school grounds.”Hoy recommends parents to be aware what their kids are doing and how they’re spending their free time. “If they notice abrupt changes in their behavior, they need to step in and have a heart to heart,” he said. “Don’t assume anything.”According to McWilliam, the problem with marijuana is that it’s much stronger now than it was years ago. “The percentage of the active ingredient – THC – is higher now than 20 years ago when the parents of these kids were in high school,” he said. “We work closely with parents and school district officials to try to keep drugs out of the schools. We use our K9 dogs and the drug dogs to do random searches in locker areas.”So far, Hoy said the drug task has had success curbing drug crimes in the county.”But we will never be able to eradicate them,” he said. “As long as people want them, people will get them for them.”Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or vwhitney@vaildaily.com. ==========================================Drug facts• From July 2002 through June 2004 police arrested 113 people related to drug crimes• 50 percent of those arrests were for cocaine• 25 percent for marijuana• 25 percent for mushrooms, ecstasy and prescription drugsSource: Eagle County Sheriff’s Office=====================================================Vail, Colorado

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