Traffic stop pays off for PACE team

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HANCOCK COUNTY — A traffic stop for speeding along Interstate 70 led local drug enforcement officers to two pounds of methamphetamine in the possession of an Ohio man traveling through Indiana. Officials later found more methamphetamine, $50,000 worth of heroin and a gun at his home following an investigation.

Officials from the local Pro-Active Criminal Enforcement team took part in the traffic stop earlier this fall and recently released information about the arrest.

Deputy Nick Ernstes of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, who is the coordinator of the PACE Team that patrols I-70, made the initial stop on Oct. 24 after spotting a Mercedes with Ohio license plates speeding along eastbound Interstate 70 in eastern Henry County.

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During the traffic stop, PACE team officers became suspicious of the driver, who was identified as Luis E. Garza, 30, of Springfield, Ohio. Canine handler Sgt. Jim Goodwin of Henry County Sheriff’s Department, one of the officers who works with Ernstes on a regular basis, brought his dog, Scarlet, a 4-year-old black lab, to sniff around the car. She detected the presence of drugs.

The PACE team officers discovered a small amount of marijuana in the glove box and two hidden vacuum-sealed bags containing crystal methamphetamine. The bags were hidden behind the rear seat arm rest and have an estimated street value of $8,000.

While Henry County Court records indicate Garza has already plead guilty to a Class B misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana, it’s the least of his worries.

Pace officers also discovered Garza was on parole in Ohio for a charge of felony aggravated robbery, officials said. Based on the information from the PACE Team investigation in Indiana, officials in Ohio were able to get a search warrant executed at Garza’s residence in Ohio.

Officers from the Springfield Police Department and the Ohio parole department found a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of heroin with an estimated street value of $50,000; a quarter pound of crystal methamphetamine with an estimated street value of $1,000; several hundred illegal pills with an estimated street value of $4,000; and a handgun.

Garza now is facing several charges in Ohio as a result of the investigation, officials said.

He was traveling from Indianapolis to Dayton, Ohio, at the time he was pulled over. The investigation is ongoing, and officials said more charges could be filed in Indiana and Ohio.

PACE is a multi-jurisdiction law enforcement criminal interdiction task force consisting of sheriff’s deputies from the Henry County Sheriff’s Department and the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department. The officers patrol Interstate 70, considered to be a main pipeline for drug traffickers.