ICE officers patrol roads for drug traffickers during holiday travel

by: Sarah Rosario Updated:

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IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. - The roads people travel the most to go home for the holidays will also be filled with drug dealers trying to blend in with the flow of traffic, but one agency is working hard to stop them.

This week, members of the Iredell County Interstate Criminal Enforcement Team will be out in full force to try to stop drug dealers in their tracks. The team members man the streets on a regular basis, but this week, there is more of a focus on criminals who they say will try to find safety in numbers.

Interstate 77 and Interstate 40 have been known for frequent use by drug traffickers, and with this week being the busy holiday travel week, investigators said now is the time they'll make their move.

According to AAA, more than 93 million Americans will be traveling during the holidays. The interstate may be the fastest way to get home this holiday, but deputies in Iredell County said it's also among the best ways for traffickers to travel, too. With both I-77 and I-40 running through it, investigators found Iredell County is one of the most common stopping areas for drug traffickers.

“Seventy-seven is a north-south corridor that runs from Florida to NYC, and 40 runs from Wilmington to California," said Capt. Darren Campbell.

Campbell said members of the ICE team make an average of two to three arrests per week. The drugs they find include everything from marijuana to cocaine to pills.

Investigators said the people they arrest for trafficking along the interstate look like every other driver. They often try to mask themselves as a single female or an elderly couple, and they also drive luxury cars.

Campbell said they confiscate more than a million dollars in cash and drugs per year, and during the holiday season, they see twice the amount of traffic.

"It's good to know that they're out here being proactive, trying to head off anything that might be happening," said Morgan Smith.

Officers on the interstate help deter other crimes, too. One gas station owner Eyewitness News spoke to is happy about it.

"The out-of-towners don't realize how much law enforcement we have, and the more visible they are, the safer it makes us and our cashiers feel," said Karen Schulz, the owner of Tomlin Mill One Stop.