EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally ran in the Sunday print edition.
OGDEN -- A Ford ran a red light and hit another car recently at Hinckley Drive and 1900 West. The Ford left the scene, but police caught up with it soon enough, then arrested the three occupants when they tried to flee on foot.
A pound of heroin in the car's air filter explained their behavior.
The Weber-Morgan Strike Force Value estimated the confiscated heroin's street value at $250,000.
That single April 2 score surpassed the amount and value of heroin seized by the strike force for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 combined.
Heroin in recent years has made a huge influx into the country as a whole and over the last 18 months in Ogden in particular, officials say.
"I can remember, when I was a canine officer in 1997, we couldn't find enough heroin to train our dogs," said Lt. Darin Parke, a South Ogden officer and current strike force commander.
He recalls a 2007 strike force bust involving 35 balloons of heroin, the tenth-of-a-gram size addicts prefer.
"Everybody was amazed. We'd never seen that before. Now I can order 2,000 balloons from Salt Lake City today," Parke said.
Why the increase?
The reasons are twofold, he and Weber County Attorney Dee Smith say.
One is crackdowns in Mexico on the sale of precursors for methamphetamine manufacturing, and the other is the switch to heroin by prescription drug addicts.
As a result, Parke said, Mexico's heroin manufacturers have upped their production by 300 to 400 percent in the last two years, according to estimates of the National Drug Intelligence Center, the federal task force monitoring agencies involved in combating drugs.
"It's coming straight up from Mexico," Parke said.
The East Coast of the U.S. sees a fair amount of heroin from China and Afghanistan, but that's not the case in the West, he said.
"It's rare enough that we ever see China white or anything from Afghanistan that you can say never these days," Parke said.
"Maybe (heroin in the Ogden area) goes to California first, or Salt Lake. But it's also coming here directly, pure, uncut heroin from Mexico."
That was the case with the brick found in the air filter.
"From the information we were able to get, it was straight from Mexico and its destination was Ogden," Park said. "They were going to sell it here."
One of the three men arrested, Omar Lopez-Para, 36, has pleaded guilty and already been sentenced to Utah State Prison.
Jesus Fernando Cuadras-Acosta, 24, and Herme Higuera, 24, face trial in November before 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde.
Lopez-Para lived in a Salt Lake City hotel but had been previously deported, police said at the time of the men's arrest. Cuadras-Acosta and Higuera are from Banning, Calif.
Parke's agents took more than 2,600 grams -- nearly 6 pounds -- of heroin off the street in 2010, compared with a little more than 300 grams the previous three years combined.
"It's just my opinion, but I think, we, and law enforcement as a whole, nationwide, are only getting about 10 percent of the heroin that's out there," Parke said.
A major indicator, he said, is the incidence of large busts and seizures at the Mexican border. A seizure of cocaine in its heyday -- 2 tons, for example -- would drive up the price of cocaine locally.
"Now, you'll have 2 tons of heroin taken off at the border, and it doesn't affect the price here at all," Parke said.
Black tar heroin is the brand on the market, he said, a dark brownish-black that can almost appear moist, rather than the stereotypical white powder.
"Large quantities tend to look like dog (excrement)," Parke said.
Smith, noting heroin arrests this year are keeping steady with last year's huge jump, said, "There's no question about it, we're seeing a lot of heroin now."
Local addicts he typically referred to as high school and college age are switching from abusing prescription drugs to abusing heroin, but Parke said the demographic cuts across all age groups.
"The 40- and 50-year-olds are as dumb as everyone else."
"They've discovered a similar high with heroin that has become easier to get and cheaper than pills," Smith said. "The addicts have essentially transferred their addiction to heroin.
Smith also described a "new dynamic" of suburbanite addicts cruising, or trolling, Ogden's gang neighborhoods for a fix.
During an interrogation with a veteran gang member a few months ago, Smith said, it was described to him as that simple at times. Users just drive around the city's streets to hook up with dealers also driving around, he said.
"The addicts come to know who the dealers are."
Other times, a dealer will rent a hotel room for a day or two and put the word out, he said.
They avoid the suspicious behavior at their residence of cars coming and going for short visits at all hours of the night, Smith said.
Davis County has seen nothing like what Weber officials describe, said John Holden, sergeant of the Davis Metro Narcotics Strike Force.
He described his agents' heroin work the last few years as netting "a few ounces here and there. Nothing out of the ordinary."
A few investigations of heroin sales are under way, but they aren't long-term probes, Holden said.
"We're nowhere near those amounts," he said of Weber's heroin. "And I'm not sure why."