More than a thousand big rigs travel through the Nicholson scales on I-59 each day. But when a Florida-based 18-wheeler rolled in around 6:30 a.m. Saturday, James Downes, a scale officer for 20 years, thought he should point it out to the Public Service Commission.
"We noticed this truck approaching the ramp and I told him, that'd probably be a good one to inspect right there," Downes said.
It's unusual for a Florida truck to come through I-59, Downes said, and that tipped him off. But, Public Service Commission officer Tim Bounds thought at first it'd just be a routine inspection of a truck carrying hazardous materials.
"When I entered the trailer, I noticed there were several boxes that wasn't labeled and all hazmat loads have to be labelled," Bounds said. "I opened one of the boxes up and I found a green, leafy substance believed to be marijuana."
Just behind the drums of flammable liquids, were several moving boxes full of pot. Bounds estimates it's about 800 pounds.
The driver of the truck was identified as Henry Jones, 39, of Lauderhill, Florida. His passenger was Keith Allen, 43, also of Lauderhill. Both men were arrested for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. According to the PSC, Jones has a criminal history, but nothing drug related. Allen does not have a criminal record, the PSC said.
The men were coming from Houston and travelling to New Jersey. Both claim they have no idea how the drugs got there.
"When you see this, it's like a kid in a candy store," Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Joe Gazzo said. "I mean, we really like to get that big a load off the streets mainly because you know there's not going to be a kid in a high school getting some of this."
For scale officer James Downes, this bust came at especially good time. He's retiring in six days.
"I've been working with them (the Public Service Commission) almost 20 years and this is really the first one that I've really assisted, helping them with, so I think it'd be a good going away present.
The DEA says 800 pounds of marijuana would have a street value of about $400,000.
The two men who were arrested were taken to the Pearl River County Jail. Investigators now plan to question the trucking company as well as the shipper to find out what they know about the drugs.