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Traffic stop validity questioned in drug case

WORTHINGTON -- Whether or not a Westbrook man will face drug charges in two counties may depend on the validity of the traffic stop used to arrest him. After a long omnibus hearing Tuesday morning, the decision rests in the hands of Judge Timothy Connell.

Gary Joseph Entinger, 51, of rural Westbrook, was arrested in late July after agents from the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force trailed him for an hour before making a "traffic stop." Entinger had already stopped to locate a phone cable when an agent approached him and told him he had been travelling too fast on a rutted, soft gravel road.

During the ensuing traffic stop, the agent was allegedly given permission to search the vehicle, and Entinger allegedly admitted he had just ingested methamphetamine. A small baggie of meth was found in the vehicle, which Entinger admitted to receiving earlier that day.

Entinger's arrest led to the arrest of two others. James Naab and Lisa Schmidt were charged with second- and fifth-degree controlled substance possession after authorities used information from Entinger to obtain a search warrant at Naab's resident.

A search warrant executed at Entinger's residence turned up a hidden room that yielded more than 20 marijuana plants and grow equipment. Also seized were two vehicles -- a 2007 Shelby Mustang and a 2008 Corvette.

Later, Naab was also charged with possession of stolen property when the execution of the search warrant yielded numerous snowmobiles and frames. Another search warrant was issued, and snowmobiles that had been reported stolen from other areas were found on Naab's property.

Entinger's attorney, Daniel Birkholz is questioning the validity of the traffic stop that eventually led to several charges among three individuals.

During Tuesday's hearing, the arresting agent took the stand and told the judge he and his partner had spotted Entinger driving toward Worthington on U.S. 59, so they followed him.

"Since becoming a deputy, I have heard numerous reports of Entinger's possession of narcotics, use of narcotics and manufacture of narcotics," the agent explained when asked why he had chosen to follow Entinger's white work truck. The agent also contacted two other agents, so three vehicles could take turns following Entinger.

While under surveillance, Entinger stopped at two residences, both people that the agent had received complaints on for narcotic involvement. He then allegedly went to Naab's residence, and left within 7 to 8 minutes. While driving around on rural roads, Entinger stopped his vehicle and took some meth, something he has admitted doing. Shortly afterward, Entinger was driving in what the agent called a "high rate of speed" on a gravel road he described as rutted and soft, travelling too fast on a road that was in questionable condition.

When he approached Entinger's parked vehicle on the side of the road, the agent testified that Entinger held a map out the window and announced that he was just locating telephone lines.

"Usually when you stop someone, they don't holler back in regards to what they are doing," the agent stated, adding that Entinger seemed very nervous and had bloodshot eyes.

During the hearing, Fred Evans of Rushmore, who had met Entinger several years earlier at the Avoca Bar, testified that he drives down the road in question at least twice a week, and it is always in great condition. In July, Evans said, the road was perfect, with no ruts or soft spots. In response to questions from Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore, Evans said he was merely casual friends with Entinger and had only met him one other time.

Another man who testified about the road conditions, Menno Haken of Rushmore, had never met Entinger until the hearing. Haken said he used to own three gravel pits and was responsible for grading the road until 2004.

"It was hard and solid," he said. "In beautiful condition."

Haken also drives down the township road on a regular basis, and said it is always in good shape as it is graded every three weeks.

Entinger testified on his own behalf, and had a pat explanation for each stop he had made in Worthington -- checking on some trees he wanted to purchase, visiting a friend who had reportedly just had surgery, and stopping at Naab's "to talk a little bit." He said he is very familiar with the back roads he was travelling that day because he located phone lines for a living and had been in that area several times.

"I didn't see any or feel any," he replied when asked about ruts or soft spots on the road.

Entinger claimed the agent that approached him accused him of running drugs from Pequot Lakes, where his company vehicle was registered from. Because it is common for people to stop and ask him what he is doing while he is locating, he said he held the map out explained as the plain clothed agent neared the car.

The fact that he had just taken some meth did not impair him at all, Entinger said.

"It was such a little bitty amount," he stated. "Just a little bit is all I did."

Both attorneys will submit written argument before the judge makes a decision on whether the traffic stop was valid.