Toxic fumes overwhelm troopers during drug stop

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 28, 2009


LAPLACE — State troopers who pulled over an 18-wheeler on Interstate 10 in St. John Parish Friday got more than they bargained for when they found about $500,000 worth of cocaine hidden among limes being transported inside the cargo trailer.

When law enforcement officials began to unload the contents of the truck after it was towed to State Police headquarters in Kenner, they also discovered high levels of pesticides that sent 17 investigators, and one police dog, to the hospital after they came in contact with the poisons, according to a release from State Police.

Louis Calato, a spokesman for State Police, said 23 kilos of cocaine, valued at about $23,000 per kilo, were found hidden among six pallets of limes inside the truck. He said investigators were not sure whether the pesticides were already on the limes or were sprayed in the truck to throw off drug dogs.

The truck’s two occupants, Francisco Aparicio, 45, 202 Bravo Ave., Taft, Texas, and David Aparicio, 47, 13760 Highway 188, Sinton, Texas, have been arrested and booked into St. John Parish jail on charges of possession of 400 or more grams of cocaine with the intent to distribute, Calato said. Authorities have not determined where the truck was headed, but Special Agent Roberto Bryan Jr., spokesman for the DEA, said the vehicle had a Texas license plate and the occupants had Texas driver’s licenses.

Calato said Hazardous Materials crews were called in after the officers who first began unloading the truck mysteriously fell ill. He said testing later revealed pesticides inside the trailer sickened them.

The officers were transported to East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie for treatment, Calato said. As a precaution, the emergency room at the hospital was shut down to further patients while officials determined the nature of the sickness. The ER was reopened around 12:30 p.m. Friday, and all officers admitted were discharged as of 3:30 p.m. Friday.

The incident began about 5 a.m. Friday when a State Police trooper stopped the truck as it was headed eastbound on I-10 in St. John the Baptist Parish, according to Kevin Harrison, DEA’s assistant special agent in charge.

While questioning the driver and passenger, the trooper felt something was amiss and asked to search the trailer, Calato said. He said he called in DEA for assistance after finding “a brick of a white powdery substance suspected to be cocaine,” said Calato.