CORNELIUS The sleek, high-dollar cars with out-of-state plates began pulling in and out of Jim Kontjes quiet Lake Norman neighborhood last spring, when a new renter moved in three homes from his on Harken Drive.
The motorists were friendly enough, always waving hello as they passed. But the constant parade of vehicles, including a 745 BMW, a Jaguar and various souped-up vehicles, seemed odd to him and his neighbors, Kontje said. The cars had New York, Georgia and South Carolina plates. It just seemed that something was going on there, he said.
On Tuesday, they knew their hunch was right when a cavalcade of police cars pulled up to the brick, two-story lakefront home.
Cornelius police said their detectives with help from the Department of Homeland Security and Huntersville police confiscated an as yet undetermined weight of marijuana, $25,000 in cash, firearms and electronic devices during searches of the home.
Police charged two men with drug offenses and said the arrests and seizures were related to a high-speed police pursuit on Interstate 77 Tuesday afternoon in which suspects escaped police.
Another search, on nearby Rio Oro Drive, turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, police and the homeowner said.
Police arrested Tyron Durham, 43, who is from Trinidad but living in Richmond Hills, N.Y.; and Sean Younger, 43, who was living at the Harken Drive residence. Both were charged with possession with intent to sell and deliver, and with maintaining a vehicle for the purpose of selling and delivering a controlled substance.
Durham also was charged with felony conspiracy, and Younger with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
According to a search warrant, Cornelius police were contacted Jan. 2 by Winston-Salem police, who said they had intercepted a package at a Kinkos store that contained two separate 5-gallon buckets, bearing the business name of Ace Hardware. Each bucket contained about 10 pounds of marijuana, according to the search warrant.
Winston-Salem police said they had taken a person into custody who was cooperating with the investigation, according to the search warrant. That informant told police that people had been picking up packages at various FedEx Kinkos locations around Charlotte. Police decided not to conduct a controlled delivery of the confiscated drugs, because too much time had elapsed.
But police in Winston-Salem contacted Cornelius police again on Tuesday, saying they had confiscated another package at a Kinkos in Greensboro. Again, the package was a 5-gallon bucket with Ace Hardware on it. A person taken into custody said the package was bound for a man named Sean in the Charlotte area.
According to the search warrant, Cornelius police then started surveillance on a house in the 21200 block of Harken Drive. The warrant says police saw two vehicles arrive a 2011 BMW with New York plates, and a black late-model Dodge Challenger with North Carolina plates.
The search warrant says Cornelius detectives watched two men take a number of 5-gallon buckets with the Ace Hardware name into the house. The two cars left the house shortly before 1 p.m., and police said they saw the men put the buckets in the BMW before leaving.
Police tried to conduct a traffic stop on the vehicles, but the Dodge driver headed south on Interstate 77 toward Charlotte. Police saw the driver throwing something from the vehicle, according to the search warrant.
Authorities said the Dodges speed exceeded 100 mph. Cornelius police stopped the pursuit near Exit 23 in Huntersville, out of concern for the safety of other motorists.
According to the search warrant, other police officers spotted the BMW on Torrence Chapel Road in Cornelius but lost sight of it. Officers soon spotted the car parked in the 21600 block of Rio Oro Drive. The car pulled away, according to the search warrant, and police stopped it on Torrence Chapel Road. Younger was driving, police said.
Police also raided a home at about 1 p.m. Tuesday on Rio Oro Drive and towed away a Jaguar from the driveway. The owner of the home told the Observer that it was a case of mistaken identity and that police promised to return the Jaguar later Wednesday. Police confirmed the mans account.
The man, who is black with dreadlocks, also owns a black Dodge and said he fit the description of the man driving the vehicle that escaped police on I-77. The homeowner told the Observer that his wife and 3-year-old daughter sat in a police patrol car as 10 investigators searched their home Tuesday.
His wife and daughter sat in the police car only because it was cold outside, the man said.
You can search (the home), the man said he told police. But theres nothing in there.
The man, who asked not to be identified, said he was more surprised at what happened and wasnt upset. Im cool with it, he said.
On Harken Drive, meanwhile, neighbors continued to reflect Wednesday on what had transpired just doors away. Well get past this, said Kontje, a sales representative for an Illinois-based auto racing components maker. Life goes on. Its a shame this had to happen.
Staff Writer April Bethea contributed.