Tip leads to large pot bust

An alert motel security guard in Lexington County gave sheriff’s deputies a tip Wednesday night that led to the arrest of three suspected marijuana smugglers and a haul of 26 pounds of marijuana at a motel on Berryhill Road.

The marijuana had a street value of $416,000.

Lexington County Sheriff’s Deputy Maj. George Brothers gave this version of events:

At approximately 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, a motel security officer on foot patrol noticed a strong odor of what he believed to be marijuana coming from one of the rooms.

When he knocked on the door, a person inside told the officer they had just smoked a "joint." While the door was open, the officer noticed a large bag on the bed.

The officer then called the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department for assistance. Deputies and a member of the Lexington County Multi-Agency Narcotics Enforcement Team arrived and arrested three suspects.

Juan Diego Santiago III, 29, of Deer Park, Texas, and Issac Ray Abilez, 23, of Pasadena, Texas, were charged with trafficking marijuana. John Averett Waterman, 23, of Nesmith, S.C., was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana. The three are being held at the Lexington County Detention Center awaiting a bond hearing.

During the investigation, officers found a 2006 Chevrolet Impala in front of the room. It was registered to Santiago. Deputies who inventoried the vehicle found an 31 additional bags of marijuana, police said.

"This seizure will have a ripple effect with the street dealers in the area. We are thrilled to remove this large amount of drugs from the streets," Sheriff James R. Metts said.

-- John Monk