FARMINGTON — The inside of the red Dodge Intrepid was dusted with heroin when police finally cornered it in a Bloomfield cul-de-sac and arrested two Albuquerque men.
"They had to be throwing it out the windows," said Neil Haws, Region II Narcotics Task Force director.
Johnny Herrera and Johnny Valtierra raced away from the Mustang gas station parking lot south of Bloomfield when they saw Region II officers approaching in bullet-proof police vests. They hit speeds of up to 100 mph as they drove up U.S. Highway 550 and turned onto the side street where they were trapped. Now each is facing at least three felony charges, Haws said.
The chase began at 12:29 p.m. on Monday and ended shortly after, according to authorities.
Herrera, 34, and Valtierra, 23, were booked on possession and intention to distribute heroin, conspiracy to distribute the drug and tampering with evidence, which Haws said occurred when they began breaking open the packages and throwing the contents out the windows. And because Herrera was driving, he was also booked for leaving the scene of an accident — he hit a parked car leaving the parking lot — and evading police, Haws said.
Haws said the two men are connected to larger distributors because they were carrying a lot of heroin, but he doesn't yet know what organization. He said they are also connected to a local group of drug dealers Region II officials have been investigating, but he declined to provide further details.
New Mexico court records indicate both men have been arrested before.
Herrera in 2000 pleaded no contest to kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap and guilty to driving while drunk. In 2001 he pleaded no contest to attacking a police officer, stealing a vehicle and driving high or drunk. In 2008 he pleaded guilty to speeding.
In 2010, Valtierra pleaded guilty to shoplifting, conspiracy to receive stolen property and contributing to a minor's delinquency. In 2011 and 2012 he was found guilty twice for failing to appear in court. And in 2013 he pleaded guilty to driving without a license, failure to appear in court, failure to pay court fines and speeding.
Haws said the heroin shipment is part of a trend.
"We're seeing a lot more heroin than we've ever seen," he said. "In the first quarter of this year ... it's over what we've got all of last year."
Already this year, Region II has recovered 388 grams of the drug, he said. The taskforce in 2013 secured 245 grams and in 2012 281 grams, he said.
He said a quarter of a gram — about the amount of sweetener in a Sweet'N Low packet — is often bought for personal use.
In his first 15 years as a police officer in this area, he said he confiscated no heroin.
When Herrera and Valtierra sped out of the Mustang parking lot after hitting the empty parked car and sideswiping a cement post, they quickly lost the three Region II vehicles, Haws said. He and his officers were not authorized to enter a high-speed chase as one of their vehicles was unmarked, he said, and chasing could have encouraged the two men to drive faster creating a traffic hazard for other drivers.
Instead he radioed dispatch with a partial license plate and car description, and police to the north positioned themselves to intercept the car, he said.
Haws said he saw the car crest hills as it drove further away, and he suspected they would be throwing as much heroin as they could out the windows. After the chase, officers found no heroin along the road, he said. He said it likely blew away in the high winds.
When the car entered Bloomfield, Herrera turned left onto Sategna Lane, and police who had been waiting followed, Haws said.
Bloomfield Police Department Commander Marlyn Wyatt said the car then turned into Mountain View Circle, which circles back to the highway, and four Bloomfield cruisers and two San Juan County Sheriff's Office deputies followed.
Two cruisers boxed the suspects in the cul-de-sac, authorities said, and they were apprehended with no shots fired.
"They didn't know where the heck where they were going," Haws said, "not in that neighborhood anyway."