Heat sensor helps police hunt down heroin

A heat-sensing device helped police find the evidence they were looking for to arrest a man they suspected of selling heroin.

Police believed that Gregory Chavez, 45, of Modesto had thrown a $2,000 bag of heroin in the bushes as he ran from officers Thursday night.

Police said they later found a small amount of drugs in his apartment. However, a golf ball-sized bag stashed in the bushes would make it hard for Chavez to argue that he planned to use it all himself, said police spokesman Sgt. Craig Gundlach.

Police had been staking out his apartment in the 300 block of Standiford Avenue, where they suspected that Chavez was dealing heroin. When they confronted him about 7:30 p.m., he ran and threw things from his pockets into the bushes, Gundlach said. Police returned later after arresting Chavez and tried, to no avail, to find what they suspected were stashed drugs. Police dogs were adamant that there were drugs in the bushes, but officers' eyes failed them.

So, upon request, Modesto firefighters shared their thermal imaging camera to spot the bag of heroin still emitting heat from Chavez's hand, Gundlach said.

The cameras help firefighters spot people's heat even in the midst of thick, dangerous smoke. Firefighters have used them in fog to spot accident victims and even can see human heat through walls, he added.

The Bee first wrote about the device in September, when it was used to find and save a woman in her burning apartment.

Before the bust was over, police had arrested Chavez on suspicion of possession of drugs for sale and of resisting arrest. Upon searching Chavez's apartment, police found and arrested Jessica Covey, 22, on suspicion of possession of heroin and of being under the influence of a narcotic.

Earlier, police arrested Luther Holcomb, 26, after he left Chavez's apartment. Gundlach said he was in his car preparing to use heroin. He was arrested on suspicion of heroin and drug paraphernalia possession.

No one was injured in the bust, Gundlach added.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at ehightower@modbee.com or 578-2382.