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Bus stop yields meth, but not courier

When an Ocean Travel bus pulled into a strip mall off Interstate 5's Phoenix exit Wednesday, more than travelers were waiting for it.

Acting on a tip, narcotics detectives and their drug-sniffing dog Kilo were waiting to check for methamphetamine purportedly hidden in luggage. Kilo keyed in on a black suitcase, giving police probable cause to seize it.

No one stepped forward to claim the case.

"Sometimes folks just want to cut their losses," Medford police Lt. Brett Johnson says. "They'll give up the drugs and not themselves."

Minutes later, the bus traveled north on I-5, leaving drug investigators with what turned out to be 2 pounds of methamphetamine.

It's the ninth such interception this year of northbound methamphetamine or heroin that Southern Oregon's MADGE drug detectives have seized off buses, one of many ways criminal enterprises shuttle illegal drugs and profits through Southern Oregon to distribution hubs such as Portland and Vancouver, Wash., police say.

"I-5 is certainly a transit route they use," says Johnson, who heads MADGE, which stands for Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement. "The dope comes north and the money goes south.

"We're trying to work all the different modes of transportation, and the bus is definitely one of them," he says.

As is suspected in Wednesday's case, most of the methamphetamine that comes through Southern Oregon is manufactured in Mexico, smuggled into Southern California and then shipped up the interstate, Johnson says.

Then "day-trippers" head north to pick up smaller caches of narcotics and bring them back for sale here, Johnson says.

In July, detectives went to the same Phoenix strip mall on a tip to seize methamphetamine hidden in a fire extinguisher on a public bus. In that case, officers were able to identify and arrest the alleged owner.

A similar bus stop in April, also the result of a tip, turned up an alleged Southern Oregon drug courier with 4.5 pounds of methamphetamine, and a second passenger on the bus had about 11 pounds of methamphetamine stashed on the bus, records show.

The men, who police said were not working together, were both arrested.

On Wednesday, detectives took the seized suitcase to the Medford Police Department's property-control room while they awaited a judge's signature on a search warrant.

Once it was signed, the ensuing search netted two shrink-wrapped packages of about a pound of methamphetamine each, Johnson says.

The evidence will be stored while it awaits processing for fingerprints and other clues, Johnson says.

"Two pounds is a lot of dope off some street," Johnson says. "We'll take it off any place and any way we can."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.