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2 charged in $1.3 million drug bust

January 31, 2011

Two Catawba County residents were jailed in Texas this weekend after police found 30 pounds of drugs in their vehicle during a routine traffic stop.

Chelsea Elizabeth McDowell, 25, of Hickory, and Terry Alexander Bumgarner, 47, of Newton, were stopped by police Saturday while the pair was traveling along Interstate 20 in Longview, Texas.

The Texas Department of Public Safety located 30 pounds of crystal methamphetamine in McDowell and Bumgarner's vehicle, which Gregg County justice of the peace B.H. Jameson said is one of the largest drug busts he's seen in his 25-year career. According to the Longview (Texas) Police Department, 30 pounds of crystal methamphetamine has a street value of $1.3 million.

A Texas probable cause arrest report said McDowell was driving a Volvo sports utility vehicle near mile-marker 583 in Longview, Texas, when a police officer pulled the vehicle over for a defective license plate light. Longview, Texas, is about two and a half hours east of Dallas.

According to the report, McDowell and Bumgarner, who was a passenger in the vehicle, showed "numerous signs of criminal activity," including nervousness and providing officers with implausible reasons for their travel.

McDowell and Bumgarner consented for the officer to search the vehicle, and during the search, he found evidence of tampering near the vehicle's exhaust pipe. The officer found traces of Bondo, which is a bonding agent for automotive repairs, on the vehicle.

Shortly after, a K9 unit was brought to the vehicle and gave a positive alert for evidence of drugs. Police searched the vehicle and discovered 12 bundles of suspected crystal methamphetamine located in a false compartment near the Volvo's exhaust.

McDowell and Bumgarner were arrested and transported to Gregg County jail. They remain incarcerated under $300,000 bonds, each, and are charged with possession of a controlled substance less than or equal to 400 grams.

Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid didn't know why the pair was traveling in Texas, but he said its possible they went there for the drug trade.

"There is a lot of drug activity in Texas," he said.

The pair's arrest in Longview, Texas, isn't their first encounter with law enforcement.

Reid said Bumgarner was confined at Catawba County jail seven times in nine years for various charges. Bumgarner's latest stint in jail was from Aug. 20-21 for a misdemeanor probation violation.

Bumgarner was charged in February 2007 with misdemeanor possession of marijuana up to half an ounce, according to North Carolina criminal records. He was also charged in June 1991 with three felonies: breaking and entering, possession of stolen goods and a probation violation.

North Carolina criminal records show McDowell was charged in the past with several misdemeanors, including contributing to the delinquency of a minor in January 2005, simple assault in September 2005, assault inflicting serious injury in July 2007 and hunting without a license in October 2009.

Reid has no record of McDowell being confined in Catawba County jail.

Reporter Robyn Claridy of the Longview News-Journal in Texas contributed to this report.

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