Meth found in hotel room, police familiar with I-15 drug trafficking


BUTTE, Mont. - We learned new information about a suspect, accused of shooting and injuring a man in Butte earlier this month.

Luke Andrew Lapinski, 37, faces a felony aggravated assault charge after prosecutors say he shot a man in the calf during an argument on august first, outside a home in Butte.

The victim drove himself to the hospital, while Lapinski allegedly sped away in a rented corvette. He was arrested about 80 miles away outside Bozeman.

Turns out this isn't Lapinski's first run-in with the law. He was out on a $20,000 bond when the Butte shooting happened. In April prosecutors charged him with two felonies and a misdemeanor in Dillon. Court documents in that case claim he was part of a dangerous California gang.

Investigators said they found 164 grams of meth and a .45 caliber pistol in his hotel room and Lapinski's girlfriend told them he was dealing meth and was "so paranoid he'd be caught." He had night vision goggles, cameras and a radar detector in his truck.

Now, prosecutors are trying to take that truck, saying he used it to transport meth from California.

Lapinski was nabbed in Dillon along Interstate 15. Turns out the Interstate 15 corridor between Canada and Idaho is a major drug trafficking route.

In Montana, Interstate 15 stretches nearly 400 miles from Idaho, north to the Canadian border. It passes through sparsely populated areas and a few cities -- Butte, Helena and Great Falls.

"We get drugs on I-15 through Denver, Salt Lake, Arizona, that area, up through here going to Canada," said Butte-Silver Bow Undersheriff George Skuletich.

Skuletich sees the drugs that come up through Montana and stop in his city and county, but says it's likely most of the drugs hauled on I-15 are headed elsewhere.

"I think most are either going through to eastern Montana or up to northern Montana and Canada," said Skuletich.

The highway running north to the Canadian border, south to Idaho is one of four major drug trafficking corridors in Montana.

"Obviously there are some drugs stopping here, being sold here," said Skuletich.

The three others are Interstate 90, Interstate 94, between Billings and North Dakota, a route to the Bakken Oil Fields, and Highway 2, the high line that runs along the northern portion of the state.

The Montana Board of Crime Control sais Montana's long sparsely populated border with Canada makes it prime target for drug traffickers. The county with the highest instances of drug crimes, Toole County, sits along the Canadian border with Interstate 15 running right through the middle.

"Marijuana and meth are two main drugs that we get from those areas," said Skuletich.

Law enforcement and highway patrol are taking steps to bring down the number of drug violations. Montana Highway Patrol recently got six new dogs to help officers find drugs in vehicles and Butte-Silver Bow will be getting its first dog in a couple months. Skuletich said the dog could be a big help tracking down drugs.

"And hopefully stop the flow of drugs over to the Bakken and up to Canada," said Skuletich.

A court hearing is scheduled in Dillon tomorrow, for prosecutors to try and get Lapinski's truck. Investigators believe it's linked to meth transporting cases from California to Montana.