Alleged meth dealers in custody after high-speed car chase
CHARLO — A wild car chase through southern Lake County on Jan. 20 ended safely with the arrests of two Idaho men on drug-related charges.
Driver Dustin Jade Morgan, 23, and passenger and car owner Stephen Dale Leischner, also 23, led law enforcement officers on a nearly 50-mile chase that reached speeds of 130 mph early Wednesday afternoon, said Lt. Mike Sargeant of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.
The chase began when two plainclothes Tribal Law and Order officers with the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force attempted to stop the suspect vehicle during a surveillance operation. The officers had information that the owner of a dark green Cadillac with a tan top and Idaho license plates, known as “Stevie,” was in the area selling methamphetamine, according to a news release from Lake County Sheriff Lucky Larson. The Task Force was following up on leads from a “very credible,” confidential source, and an agent had already met with County Attorney Mitch Young on the matter, said Task Force member Brian Fyant, who also heads up narcotics investigations for the Tribes.
“We had enough probable cause to go ahead and do a (traffic) stop on the vehicle,” Fyant said. “However, the guy didn’t pull over, of course.”
Instead, “Stevie” took off and led Sheriff’s deputies, Tribal Law and Order, Mission Police, Ronan Police and the Montana Highway Patrol on a 30-minute pursuit that began on U.S. Highway 93 in Ravalli, went north through St. Ignatius, back to Arlee and again through Ravalli, where the suspects turned west onto Hwy. 200 and then north onto Hwy. 212. Officers used spike strips to stop the fleeing vehicle south of Charlo, where the suspects attempted to continue running on foot, but were caught after “a very short foot chase,” Sargeant said.
A Lake County Sheriff’s deputy leading the pursuit observed objects being thrown out of the Cadillac’s windows throughout the chase, and officers later recovered clear plastic bags containing suspected methamphetamine and a broken digital scale from along the highway. Sargeant said the men were unwrapping the drugs and throwing the white powder out of the window. A search of the car turned up about three grams of the substance in the carpet and seats, and with the additional bags found along the road, the total weight of the recovered meth was about 12 grams — a street value of around $1,700, Fyant said. A personal amount of marijuana was also found on the front seat of the car, and although no handgun was found, ammunition for a 9 mm was.
“The majority of the meth was recovered … we were very fortunate in that respect,” Sargeant noted.
Fyant said he believes Leischner and Morgan were in the area for “several days” before their arrests, and that “there’s plenty of evidence of distribution.”
According to Larson, both men are charged with criminal endangerment, possession with the intent to sell, tampering with evidence and numerous traffic offenses. Leischner and Morgan appeared in Lake County Justice Court on Jan. 21, where their bond was set at $50,000 apiece.
Both Leischner, of American Falls, Idaho, and Morgan, also of Idaho, have criminal records. Morgan, who lived in St. Ignatius for a while as a teenager, had a warrant for his arrest out of Idaho, but it was non-extraditable.
Sargeant and Fyant both credited the safe conclusion of the chase to good teamwork by local law enforcement agencies.
“It started out as a Tribal case … because of everyone that helped out we were able to catch these guys,” Fyant said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
“Everyone performed well, and no one was injured,” Sargeant added. “We got two people selling drugs off the street … it was a good day.”