RICHFIELD, UTAH -- Interstate 70 from Baltimore ends as a rural roadway strewn with turkey feathers and debris from passing hay trucks. Welcome to "Cocaine Lane."
Since September 1986, 84 people have been arrested and $190 million in cocaine, marijuana and heroin has been confiscated on I-70 in Sevier County. It's brisk business for a highway-interdiction program in the heart of the West.
By comparison, New Jersey's "Cocaine Alley" interdiction program in 1984 yielded 286 drug-related arrests, 445 pounds of cocaine, 2,500 pounds of marijuana, $447,300 in cash and various weapons.
The arrests here are the work of a few Utah Highway Patrol troopers who take pride in their success and vehemently deny allegations that they use racial "profiles" to stop and search cars.
Troopers say each case is different, but their suspects have some things in common: Nearly all are couriers; most are traveling east; half are of Hispanic descent and a majority consent to vehicle searches.
Most are carrying cocaine and have a story to tell, officials say.
"They'll say, 'I met a guy in a bar and he said he was tired of driving, and would I take his car across the country for him and he'd pay me $2,000,' " said county attorney Don Brown, who has not lost a case since the crackdown began two years ago.
Brown, Sheriff John Meacham and the troopers who patrol the winding 92 miles of I-70 between I-15 and Salina Canyon deny that the freeway, whose speed limit slows to 40 mph in places, merely drops drug runners in their laps.
"If I or a couple more troops happened to be up on I-80, I think you'd see cocaine taken down all the time," said a trooper whose 15 busts make him the godfather of the drug patrolmen.
The arrests, which mostly involve two people per car, occur at no particular time of day. They result either from stops for seemingly routine traffic violations or roadblocks to check licenses and registration, according to highway patrol reports.
Some claim troopers concentrate on drivers who look Hispanic and on vehicles with out-of-state plates. About 80 percent of those charged with possession of cocaine are Hispanic. A majority of the marijuana busts have involved whites.
"I really think there is discrimination going on," said David Blackwell, a public defender who has handled 90 percent of the drug cases since January. "I think they're treating Hispanics driving out-of-state cars differently than anyone else. And that's racial discrimination," he said. "But proving it is another matter."
The troopers, who consented to interviews on condition of anonymity, say they have never used racial profiles because they don't need to.
"There's an old theory," Meacham said. "If you walk into a corral full of horses and one horse is bound to kick, which horse do you watch? Same thing. If one of these officers has made 10 drug arrests and they've all been Hispanics, I'm sure it's just his nature that he looks at Hispanics closer."
Notwithstanding their successes, the troopers think that they are nailing only about one percent of the drug traffic cruising past the county's gypsum hills, turkey farms and poultry processing plants.
The highway patrol has no figures on how many have been stopped and subjected to searches that turned up nothing, but, says one sergeant, "We don't search an awful lot of vehicles where we don't come up with something."
Blackwell acknowledges most of his clients are drug couriers, many of them illegal aliens who jump bail and flee to their homelands.
"The convictions are usually a plea to reduced charges, or bail is reduced and we never see them again," Blackwell said. "I think they're running drugs, obviously, but there's a misconception that these are big-time drug dealers."
Records show many with hometowns in Colombia, California and Mexico. In only two cases have the couriers led authorities to a dealer.
"Most of them we've been catching have been coming up from Southern California," said one trooper. "A good share are going to New York, but a lot of them are making drops along the way. We find maps or a note or something that says stop in Burlington, Iowa, or Kansas City or Indianapolis or any city along the way."
Lately, some notes have instructed the driver to bypass Sevier County. And while that doesn't hurt the highway patrol's self-esteem, the troopers think their work merely inconveniences dealers.