Ion scans and nanograms played a key role yesterday in the arrest of a Colorado trucker and his companion after a high-tech drug sniffer caught a whiff of illegal substances in their 18-wheeler at a Maryland State Police weigh station.
"I think this is as high tech as there is in the war on drugs," said Capt. Raymond D. Cotton, commander of the police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, after the first arrests in the weeklong "Operation Ionscan."
Assisted by National Guard soldiers from Maryland and Delaware, troopers since Friday have been using a vacuum to remove particles from the log books of trucks selected at random at the New Market Scale House along eastbound I-70 in Frederick County.
The particles are captured on a filter that is inserted into an ion scanner owned by the Delaware Guard, programmed to seek traces of illegal drugs as small as a nanogram, or one-billionth of a gram. In four seconds, Captain Cotton said, the scanner flashes a light indicating the result -- green for negative, or red to take a closer look at the vehicle.
In 550 scans made between Friday and yesterday afternoon, Captain Cotton said, the equipment recorded "100 positive hits." But further examinations by troopers with drug-detecting dogs failed to turn up drugs in any of the vehicles until shortly before 10 a.m. yesterday.
That was when trucker Larry W. Stubblefield, 36, and companion Consuelo Gonzales, 46, both of Denver, arrived with a cargo of paint and, police say, some marijuana, a white powder believed to be cocaine, and three revolvers -- two of them loaded.
Mr. Stubblefield was charged with marijuana possession and carrying a handgun in a vehicle, and Ms. Gonzales with the weapon offense.
They were released on $1,000 cash bail bonds set by District Court comissioners.