Among the biggest drug busts ever on Colorado's eastern plains began with a man who'd been shot in the hand.
It ended with two arrests and seven pounds' worth of meth valued at $320,000.
And that's not to mention the 51 pounds of marijuana.
"We've been seeing an increase in drug activity over the last few years, especially related to methamphetamine," says Undersheriff Adam Wills, with the Yuma County Sheriff's Office. "But as far as we can tell from historical records, this was the largest drug seizure, and largest methamphetamine seizure, in our county's history."
According to the YCSO, it all began early on October 14, when Justin Bixler, a 42-year-old from Fairbury, Nebraska, showed up at the Yuma District Hospital emergency room with a gunshot wound to his hand.
Several interviews later, the sheriff's office put out a BOLO (Be on the Lookout) for a black Chevy Equinox being driven by another Fairbury resident, Johnny Payne.
Before long, Payne was tracked down at one of the most public places in all of Yuma.
"It's called City Park," Wills says. "There's an actual park with a playground and picnic tables and a community swimming pool. And he was just hanging out at the swimming pool."
Lickety split, Payne was taken into custody and the Equinox was searched. Inside it, authorities found an ounce of suspected meth and a small amount of marijuana.
Over the course of the subsequent investigation, which stretched into the night, Wills says YCSO personnel concluded that the firearm used to perforate Bixler's mitt was connected to a Yuma resident, Joshua Hansen.
Hansen lived at 541 West Hoag in Yuma....
...and before long, law enforcers were granted a search warrant for the residence.
Members of the sheriff's office, assisted by the Yuma Police Department, arrived at the Hansen place at 3 a.m. the following morning and fitted Hansen with a pair of handcuffs.
They also took possession of the aforementioned seven pounds of meth and 51 pounds of marijuana and marijuana concentrates, plus three ounces of cocaine, ecstasy, what a news release describes as "suspected synthetic drugs," a number of weapons (some of them deemed illegal) and stolen antiques from a burglary that took place this past summer in the area.
Here's one photo of the booty....
...and a close-up.
At this point, Wills says, authorities don't know the source of the drugs, but it wouldn't surprise anyone if the marijuana turned out to be from nearby.
"We've seen more private grows popping up out in the rural areas," he acknowledges. "Criminals recognize that we don't necessarily have the ordinances to be able to address these things or the law-enforcement resources to put a microscope on them like the Front Range communities."
Not that Wills and company are shrugging off the rise in pot grows. After all, Yuma County Sheriff Chad Day was among the signatories on a 2015 lawsuit against Amendment 64, the measure that legalized limited recreational marijuana sales in Colorado circa 2012. But there's only so much his crew can do. "Our resources have been stretched rather thin in the area of our patrol division, and that's something we expect to increase," Wills says.
So how did the YCSO manage to pull off the giant drug raid? It wasn't easy, considering that the office received and handled reports of seven burglaries, five criminal-mischief cases, two mental-health transport orders, an additional inmate transport, a theft case, three citizen assists, two VIN inspections, two restraining-order violations, three fire investigations, a suicidal person and five loose livestock calls over the course of the three and a half days it took to wrap up the Payne-Hansen matter.
"Several of us, including myself, worked a thirty-hour day to bring this case to its conclusion," Wills says. "I am extraordinarily pleased and proud of everyone at our agency and what we did, even with the lack of resources we have when it comes to manpower. Everybody was able to come together."
And all because of a bullet in the hand. Here are the booking photos for Payne and Hansen.
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