On July 16, 2013, around 9 AM, a Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office K9 deputy stopped a blue 2005 Toyota Corolla on north I17 for equipment and moving violations. The deputy contacted its driver, 23-year-old Darren Keller, and his passenger, 22-year-old Jose Ramirez. Both are from Colorado and claimed they were heading home from Phoenix. During a conversation with Keller about the traffic violations, the deputy asked him if the vehicle contained any drugs/narcotics. Keller claimed there were no drugs in the vehicle and consented to a search at the deputy’s request.
While checking the front passenger side of the vehicle, the deputy detected an odor of marijuana and traced its source to a bag of marijuana in a passenger seat pocket. Neither Keller nor Ramirez had medical marijuana cards.
In order to further aid in the search, the deputy deployed his certified K9 partner for an exterior sniff of the vehicle. When the K9 was near the rear driver’s side of the vehicle, the deputy saw his partner alert to the wheel well and eventually scratch this area to confirm a scent alert. The deputy took a closer look in the wheel well and noticed a spot covered with fresh body putty and paint. Additionally, the wheel well had been recently painted and exhibited little dirt or wear compared to age of the vehicle. None of this repair appeared associated with accident damage. When the deputy began prying some of the putty away, he determined it was concealing a void in the frame.
For safety, the vehicle was moved off the highway. When the putty was removed, it revealed a metal cover which, when detached, exposed a compartment that extended to the opposite wheel well. The compartment was found to contain 9 wrapped packages of methamphetamine with a total weight of 16 pounds.
Both Keller and Ramirez denied specific knowledge of the methamphetamine. Nearly $3500 was also seized. Keller and Ramirez were booked at the Camp Verde Detention Center on charges including Transportation of Dangerous Drug for Sales and Possession of Dangerous Drugs for Sale. Each has a $100,000 bond and both remain in-custody.
A conservative wholesale price for this load is well in excess of $150,000.
Citizens can contact the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office with information or questions at 928-771-3260 or the YCSO website: www.ycsoaz.gov