Mark Shaffer
Republic Flagstaff Bureau
Sept. 28, 2004 12:00 AM

FLAGSTAFF - State Department of Public Safety officers said Monday that they had made their largest marijuana bust in years on northern Arizona's highways, stopping an 18-wheeler with nearly 6,500 pounds at the Sanders port of entry on Interstate 40.

Charles Eugene Culp, 30, who had an Ohio driver's license, was being held Monday in Apache County jail in St. Johns on a variety of marijuana transportation and possession charges.

The marijuana had a street value of $5 million to $11 million, DPS Lt. Bernie Gazdzik said.

The bust, which happened Friday night, was the latest of about 10 involving tractor-trailers hauling marijuana along northern Arizona's interstate during the past two years. They primarily have been eastbound on I-40 from Los Angeles to Kansas City and other points east. Most of the stops had involved loads of a ton or less, Gazdzik said.

"I don't know if this is a trend of more dope in big rigs coming this way or we're just getting better at finding it," Gazdzik said. Drug-sniffing dogs were used to find the marijuana.

Gazdzik said DPS Officer Albert Vandeaver, who made the stop, became suspicious after being told by Culp that 13 pallets of deodorant and hairspray were being transported, which was only about one-third of the hauling space on the truck.

Chris Oakes, a canine officer for the Apache County Sheriff's Department, said the trailer measured 53 feet on the outside but only 48 feet on the inside in front of a temporary wall.

When officers investigated, they found dozens of individually wrapped, 20-pound marijuana bundles in the secret compartment. They also found eight to 10 bundles each in large shipping boxes in the main trailer with the other products, Oakes said.

Gazdzik said the eastbound rig was believed to have crossed the border in Nogales and was driven to Los Angeles before being stopped near the Arizona-New Mexico line.

"With 500 trucks an hour on I-40, the smugglers are hoping that they are going to get lost in the crowd," Gazdzik said. "Narcotics traffic in general is getting more sophisticated and this is evidence of that."