Drug Bust Dampens Birthday for Man, 72

Rodell Cole was arrested Tuesday night by New Carrollton police.
Rodell Cole was arrested Tuesday night by New Carrollton police. (New Carrollton Police Department - New Carrollton Police Department)
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By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2008

Most senior citizens spend their birthdays surrounded by family, enjoying their grandchildren. Authorities say Rodell Cole spent his 72nd birthday Tuesday making a drug run, hauling nearly $1.4 million in marijuana in the trunk of a silver 2007 Toyota Camry along the Eastern Seaboard.

"In today's society, people just do things that you'd never imagine," New Carrollton Police Chief David G. Rice said.

Cole was arrested the night of his birthday and charged with numerous drug offenses, including possession with intent to distribute, possession of a controlled dangerous substance and possession of marijuana. He also faces drug conspiracy charges.

He was being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Prince George's County Department of Corrections.

Police say Cole was traveling from New York City to North Carolina with eight drug-filled garbage bags that were stuffed into two large black duffel bags. On Tuesday night, he backed into a 1994 Nissan Sentra as he was leaving a 7-Eleven on Annapolis Road in New Carrollton. Cole has cataracts in his left eye.

New Carrollton police, looking into what they thought was a fender bender, found that Cole was driving on a suspended South Carolina license. The car, they said, would have to be impounded. Officer Robert Ciancio took the car keys and asked Cole whether he wanted to get anything from the vehicle. Cole took a jacket from the passenger seat and then asked the officer to open the trunk so he could get the rest of his belongings.

Police said Cole removed a black duffel bag. When he began to lift another duffel bag, he appeared to be struggling. So Ciancio went to his aid.

"I thought it was nice to have the officer to help him with the bag," Rice said. "It put a whole new meaning on respecting your elders. It's crazy."

But when Ciancio picked up the bag, he smelled an odor emanating from the trunk. He suspected something wasn't right.

The officer called Sgt. Marc Butler of the canine unit to the scene. The dog, Kazaan, helped determine that the duffel bags contained drugs.

Police found 152.6 pounds of marijuana.

Butler said it appears that the drugs were part of a larger shipment. He said eight bales marked with numbers were recovered from the Camry. Rice said a van following the Camry sped off when police arrived.

Based on the police investigation, "there's a potential of more than 200 bales still being out there," Butler said.

Rice said he had three words for Cole when he saw him at the station. He said he just couldn't resist.

"I said, 'Happy birthday, sir,' " the chief said with a chuckle. "I couldn't be rude."

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