North Charleston police narcotics officers knew something was suspicious about the white Pontiac Grand Prix with Florida plates they had pulled over June 1.
It wasn't until they started pulling the car apart, however, that they discovered a secret, mechanized compartment below the car's console that they realized they had made one of the largest heroin busts in the department's history, officials said Wednesday.
Officers found about 2,000 wax paper bags of heroin stashed inside the compartment, Deputy Chief Reggie Burgess said. He said the 389 grams, or almost 14 ounces, have a street value of about $200,000.
Police charged Naarl J. Richard, 35, of North Charleston, and Kitia Lania Coney, 31, of Miami with trafficking and possession of heroin within a half-mile of a school. They are both being held at the Charleston County Detention Center on $125,000 bail.
Chief Jon Zumalt said the seizure is sure to have a major impact on the local drug trade.
"This is cutting the head off the snake," Zumalt said. "This is cutting off a major supplier."
Burgess said narcotics officers doing surveillance had been told ahead of time to look for a car that matched the description of the white Grand Prix. They stopped the car on the Ashley Phosphate Road exit ramp on Interstate 26 for an improper lane change.
Officers reported that the two occupants were acting strangely and that they noticed a strong odor coming from inside the car, a fact verified by a drug-detecting dog.
Burgess said finding the drugs was a little more difficult.
"It was hard but it's our job," he said.
The discovery of the hydraulic console covering a hole in the floor board was considered "intriguing," even among seasoned narcotics officers used to finding drugs stashed inside car doors, seats and the engine block.
Officers showed off how the suspected drug couriers could access the secret compartment by pushing a black button installed on the dashboard. The small electric charge caused the console between the driver's and passenger's seats to rise from the floorboard, revealing a hole visible from the backseat.
Zumalt said heroin historically has been sold on the southern end of the city and inside Charleston to people from all around the tri-county area.
"They come to North Charleston to buy drugs and I'm sick of it," he said.
The largest heroin seizure in the city's history came in August 1995, when police seized uncut heroin valued at $1 million from an Amtrak passenger traveling from Florida to New York.
Zumalt said the recent discovery helps the department achieve its goals of reducing demand, cutting off supply to street-level dealers and targeting mid-level and high-level suppliers. He hopes a dried-up market will force some users to seek help.