By CHANSE WATSON
KINGSTON — Looks like Idaho State Police had so much fun here in September, they just had to come back again in October.
ISP troopers and collaborating agencies (such as the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, Bonner County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Border Patrol) conducted another traffic safety emphasis in the Silver Valley last week, spanning from Tuesday to Thursday.
Operations such as these, which call upon troopers from all over the state, have become fairly common in Shoshone County as of late — this most recent one occurring less than a month after the previous.
“I think it was great. Anytime that we can have an impact on traffic safety, it’s a positive,” said ISP Capt. John Kempf. “We ran this one from the top of Fourth of July pass to Kellogg and we didn’t have any crashes in the area, which is a stretch of the interstate that sees several.”
In just three days, the law enforcement collaborative conducted 294 traffic stops and seven motorist assists; issued 15 drivers license violations and 11 hazardous moving citations; and racked up 29 felony drug charges, five fugitive/warrant arrests and one felony DUI arrest.
Accompanying the many arrests and charges was the seizure of several illegal substances. Normally known for their marijuana trafficking busts, this emphasis in particular was successful in locating large amounts of opiates or “powders.”
Notable cases involving large amounts of opiates include two arrests for trafficking methamphetamine (1 ounce), one arrest for trafficking methamphetamine and heroin (3 ounces and 1 ounce, respectively), one arrest for trafficking cocaine (1 ounce) and one arrest for felony eluding, felony destruction and felony possession of methamphetamine following a high speed chase.
Troopers and Shoshone County deputies were involved in the pursuit that took them through a good stretch of the Silver Valley. The suspect, identified as 38-year-old Jason Michael Cuchine of Butte, Mont., failed to yield for a traffic stop on I-90 at mile post 39 and then accelerated to a high rate of speed heading east.
The pursuit finally ended 30 miles down the road near milepost 69 after law enforcement used spike strips twice to disable his vehicle. Once he was brought to a stop, Cuchine was taken into custody without incident.
During the chase, the suspect attempted to dispose of large amounts of methamphetamine he had in his possession by throwing it out of his window. The drugs were later recovered by troopers.
Capt. Kempf explains that in almost all of these incidents involving opiates, amounts of marijuana (big or small) was also found.
“It’s typical that we see on a lot of our meth, heroin or cocaine seizures that there’s always the poly-drug component,” he said. “We always see marijuana mixed in with these loads, whether it be for personal use or trafficking.”
Speaking of trafficking, troopers made five separate arrests on individuals for marijuana possession.
Two in particular were taken in for illegally possessing 4.9 pounds of marijuana and $1,200 in cash. Another was caught with 15 ounces of weed and all the equipment needed to start a growing operation.
Kempf isn’t sure why this operation yielded so many “powders” and less large marijuana amounts than previous ones, but is more happy that things like meth and heroin are being taken off the streets.
“They don’t look as big (opiate seizures), but the reality is that just one ounce of herion equals out to about 280 doses — that is a lot of heroin,” he said. “Also, an ounce of methamphetamine is roughly 50 to 100 doses.”
When it comes right down to it, troopers simply don’t have control over what substances they may find during a traffic stop.
“The dogs don’t tell us ‘it’s weed, bro!’ They indicate and we do what we need to do,” Kempf said.
As far as interesting, no-drug related incidents go, ISP did call on U.S. Border Patrol agents on two separate occasions during the emphasis– which resulted in four arrests on undocumented immigrants.
With another successful operation in the books, Kempf and ISP are thankful for the help they receive from local agencies.
“We really appreciate the cooperation we get from both Kootenai County and Shoshone County, not only with their deputies that are participating, but also the jail staff and the prosecutors office,” Kempf said. “We increase their in-custody number exponentially in a short amount of time.”
Kempf also noted the kindness he and his trooper received during the operation from the community.
“Personally, I stopped for a break or to get gas three or four times during this operation and without fail, some of the local people that were also there expressed their appreciation for us being here,” he said. “That’s nice to hear because we don’t always get a lot of that and we certainly appreciate the support. Our goal is to make it so that those folks can get from point A to point B as safely as possible.”
Annual emphasis operations like this one occur all over the state as products of the Domestic Highway Enforcement Initiative.