ASHLAND — Two Southern California men are in the Jackson County Jail on several heroin-related charges after Oregon State Police reportedly found 30 pounds of the drug in their car during a traffic stop on Interstate 5 last week.
Jose Raul Esparza, 26, of Calexico, Calif., and 21-year-old Armando Agustin Villasenor, of El Centro, Calif., are jailed on charges of delivery, manufacture and possession of heroin. On Tuesday, bail for each was set at $500,000.
"It's not a record seizure for our department, but it definitely falls in the category of being very significant," OSP Lt. Gregg Hastings said.
An OSP trooper spotted the men at 7:30 a.m. Friday, July 5, near milepost 11 outside Ashland. Esparza was driving a Ford van, and the trooper said he pursued it for driving over the posted speed limit. Police found the heroin in the vehicle's spare tire, located in the trunk, during the traffic stop. Investigators estimated the drug has a value of more than $600,000.
The men's destination remains under investigation.
Hastings said the seizure exceeds all of the agency's 2011 seizures combined.
"We've seen a definite jump in terms of what we had seen in seizures from a few years ago," he said. "(There's) still lots more out there that we aren't coming across."
Officials from the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement — MADGE — Team, agreed. Based on the agency's numbers, the OSP seizure is five times more than the 6 pounds of heroin MADGE seized in 2011, and a little over half of the 54 pounds the agency seized in 2012.
"It is a significant seizure, absolutely, especially when you're looking at something that is taken in doses of grams," said Sgt. Kevin Walruff of MADGE. "That's a significant amount of user base."
Walruff added that most of the heroin seized in the Rogue Valley during traffic stops is bound for larger distribution hubs such as Portland and Seattle.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or email@example.com.