He sits in an unmarked Washington State Patrol car, studying the traffic that blows by on U.S. Highway 395 just south of Ritzville.
A radar gun squawks in his hand, confirming his suspicion that most of the drivers are going too fast.
But Sgt. Kris Boness is thinking about drugs. He knows some of the drivers are hauling narcotics - on their way to easy sales and big profits in nearby Spokane and North Idaho.
Over the past five years, 1,000 drug arrests have been made by troopers in Ritzville - more than anywhere else in Washington state. The busts go down on the side of the road, where troopers find guns, drugs and thick wads of cash tucked inside many of the cars they stop.
“It’s like taking candy from a baby,” Boness said. “There is a lot of dope traveling our highways. People have no idea.”
Most of the drugs come up from Yakima and the Tri-Cities, usually carried by gang members who sell them in a matter of days to dealers and other customers at Spokane motels, Boness said. Methamphetamine and “crack” cocaine are the latest drugs of choice, but troopers still snare large loads of marijuana as well.
“It just depends on who’s buying, I guess,” Boness said. “We see it all, eventually.”
Boness and the seven troopers who work for him in Ritzville are known as “The Boness Bunch” at WSP offices around the state. By focusing on the heavy drug traffic, they’ve earned quite a reputation, WSP officials said.
“What they’re doing in Ritzville is well-known up and down the West Coast by law enforcement and criminals alike,” WSP chief Annette Sandberg said at a recent awards ceremony at which Boness was recognized for his work.
“It’s just good, solid police work,” said Sgt. Chris Powell, a WSP spokesman. “There isn’t much that gets by them.”
Even the national media spotlight has been turned on “The Boness Bunch.” Last week, television crews with FOX’s “Real Stories of the Highway Patrol” spent three nights with the Ritzville troopers. They filmed several drug busts and watched Boness seize a car with a sawed-off shotgun inside.
Boness said fewer calls for routine service in Ritzville allow the group to work harder on drug arrests. The troopers have the time to make more stops than their counterparts in busier offices do, he said.
The slower pace lets them spend their shifts scanning the highways which cut through open wheat fields near Ritzville, population 1,900.
The rural area doesn’t look like a battlefield in the war on drugs. But Boness and his fellow troopers are patrolling arteries along which most of the drugs bound for Eastern Washington and North Idaho flow.
Every day, troopers pick out cars with missing headlights, expired license tabs or heavy-footed drivers behind the wheel. Any infraction allows troopers to pull the drivers over to get a better look.
The dealers are hard to miss.
“They get nervous and talk a lot usually,” Boness said. “Half the time they say, ‘Go ahead, take a look,’ and they’ve got a whole mess of drugs inside.”
One morning last fall, Boness stopped a car on Interstate 90 with enough drugs inside to get everyone in the city of Coeur d’Alene high. He found at least 25,000 doses of LSD, more than 1,000 grams of marijuana, 881 grams of hallucinogenic mushrooms and a small amount of methamphetamine.
The driver was going 80 mph when Boness spotted him.
“They’re not always the brightest in the class,” Boness said.
If troopers don’t get the driver’s permission to search a car but suspect drugs are inside, they can get a search warrant.
Drug dogs are borrowed from nearby police departments to speed things up, Boness said. Canines find drugs quickly, even when they’re stashed in door panels, side-view mirrors or spare tires. All are favorite hiding spots, Boness said.
Sometimes, the motorists themselves will tell troopers exactly where the drugs are, as one nervous teenager did recently when Boness caught him for speeding.
“There’s pot and a pipe in my trunk,” Travis Hensley said from the back seat of Boness’ maroon patrol car. “It’s in there.”
Boness had Hensley, a 19-year-old from Florida, sign a search consent card. He read sections of the card aloud three times to make certain Hensley understood his rights.
Troopers found a small amount of marijuana in the car and took Hensley to jail. He also was driving with a suspended license.
“Not exactly our gang-banging dope dealer from the Tri-Cities,” Boness said after the arrest. “But we have zero tolerance. You’d think people would know that by now.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Graphic: Drugs and a farming town