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"Ninety percent of what we've been doing involves meth," Sturgill concludes. "We can't even target the users."
Tom Collins was Maricopa County attorney from 1980-88. He moved to Cochise County shortly after ceding the helm to Rick Romley. The southeast Arizona jurisdiction abuts the Mexico border for 83 miles.
Collins is a drug prosecutor, and is knowledgeable and thoughtful about what he's been seeing.
"Everybody down here seems to be in the meth business," he says. "Anybody can cook meth, and it's become a dangerous little industry. A lot of the time, you'll find small children floating around the stuff. The guy who's making it is a meth freak himself, so how smart was he before he started to put stuff made with brake fluid, muriatic acid, Red Devil lye into his body and brain? Most of the people who are using this stuff aren't evil by any means, just schmucks."
As in Arizona's urban areas, those who use methamphetamines in Cochise County transcend the stereotype of speed being strictly a low-class, biker-based drug. For example, the son of Sierra Vista's police chief is serving prison time on a meth-related conviction.
From a mere 16 methamphetamine-related felony cases filed in 1996, Cochise County prosecutors this year have filed 51 cases (many have multiple defendants) against meth users and sellers.
"It's not just a, quote, city problem anymore," says Dye, chief of the department's substance-abuse unit. "The data we're seeing indicate little difference in meth use between urban and rural areas. That's new."
Last August, the small town of Willcox--off Interstate 10 about an hour east of Tucson--was rocked by the cold-blooded shotgun slayings of a 16-year-old and a 20-year-old man. (A third person survived several shotgun wounds.) Police arrested two teenage Willcox boys, who face trial on murder charges.
Sheriff's reports obtained by New Times suggest a methamphetamine link. According to the reports, the boys may have gone to a home outside town intending to steal meth they believed to be there. Their plan went awry, allegedly ending in murder.
Surprisingly, the number of meth lab busts in Cochise County has been few--just four this year compared with more than 50 in Mohave County, with a similar-size population.
"Maybe if you came back in six months or so, maybe the story would be different," says Bernard Minarik, the Drug Enforcement Agency's resident agent-in-charge for southeastern Arizona. "We are just getting geared up for this stuff."
Adds the 13-year DEA veteran: "None of our enforcement activity in reference to meth has any direct or indirect ties to Mexico that we're aware of. Now, southern California, of course, seems to be a hub for this, so a lot of southern Cal product is being distributed all across the country, and here, too."
Minarik's comment runs counter to data released by his own agency and by other police intelligence. It indicates Mexican drug gangs are smuggling meth into the States by the bushel, some of it through Cochise County.
"There's two sources of meth in Arizona: foreign and domestic," confirms DEA special agent Duncan Lingle. "The domestic meth comes from all over. The foreign meth all comes from Mexico. Some of it's smuggled into California first, but a lot of it comes straight up and in."
Concurrently, Cochise County has a share of independent meth cooks, some of whom have stories with a uniquely rural twist. One such tale emerged last August, after a scraggly man in an old pickup truck bought an exceptional amount of iodine from a Benson feed store.
The feed store carries iodine because it cures horses of thrush, a disease caused by a parasitic fungus. It also can be used in the production of methamphetamine.
"He didn't exactly look like a horse person," Tom Collins says drolly. "I mean, nipple rings and tattoos are not standard fare at Benson feed stores. . . . He was more of the typical, 'I've been on meth for 15 years' sort of guy--one foot in the grave."
The store owner jotted down the man's license-plate number. Soon after that, the customer ordered more iodine by phone. The owner called police, who turned up the name Phillip Olney, with an address in remote Whetstone, north of Sierra Vista.
A week later, another man in Olney's pickup bought a fresh bottle of iodine from the Benson feed store. The owner again phoned police, who pulled the pickup over. The driver fled on foot, but his passenger stayed put and gave up names and locations. ("Something we've noticed with meth people more so than with other druggies," Collins says. "They give up their cohorts in about half a second.")
Officers found the makings of a makeshift meth lab in the bed of the pickup, protected by a large black dog.
The passenger volunteered that the fleeing man was named Harry. "Harry" was Harry Myers, a 47-year-old man already facing meth-related charges after his April 1997 arrest in Pinal County. Myers was soon caught and arrested.
The passenger said Myers lived in a mobile home with Phil Olney. He said he'd seen meth and a "lab" in a travel trailer next to Olney's home.