Police watched as a black-colored sedan slowly drove around a sprawling parking lot at the Wal-Mart in Groton on Tuesday afternoon.
They had been tipped off the car with whoever inside might show up at the store off of Gold Star Highway for a drug sale.
Surveillance teams were set up and just before 4:00 p.m. the car arrived. With regular shoppers nearby, the car parked up front right near the handicap parking.
Police said a woman wearing a pink shirt and colorful spandex pants emerged. There were two men inside, one in the front passenger seat and the other in the rear passenger seat.
At that moment, teams made their move and the knock at the window “startled” the man seated up front.
Police said one man reach toward a console, possibly for a weapon, and they swung the door open. Both men were quickly arrested.
The woman police said had started to return to the car, saw the confrontation, and took off running. An officer stopped her just as she was about to enter the women’s bathroom in the store.
Back at the car, officers said they were hit quickly with the smell of marijuana and packaged bags of the drug were sitting out.
Police said those bags were just the beginning.
Officers said the investigation found more than 10.6 ounces of heroin ready to be sold, 6.5 grams of crack cocaine, and 20 grams of powder cocaine.
Police said the heroin tested positive for fentanyl, a synthetic opiate.
Also there was 12.3 ounces of marijuana, $2,000 in cash, and 10 cell phones.
Police said the drugs were worth at least $30,000.
They arrested Lorenzo Malcolm, 27 of New London, Gilberto Alvarez, 29 with no address, and Rachel Mead, 40 with no address.
They all face charges including possession of heroin with intent to sell, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, and possession of cocaine.
On Wednesday, they appeared before a judge in a New London courtroom and each had their bond set at $49,000 cash only. Their next court date was set for Mar. 30.
Police said this is the first big “grab” for a recently formed group, the Regional Community Enhancement Task Force.
“We realize that by gathering our assets, putting them toward this problem, we can get a lot more accomplished,” said Chief Louis Fusaro Jr., Groton Town Police Department.
The task force includes police, politicians, and community groups from around southeast Connecticut. Its aim is to combat the heroin epidemic with enforcement, treatment, and prevention.
“What we’re trying to do is take a multi-faceted approach not just enforcement but really to get people help,” said Fusaro.
Experts said heroin especially laced with fentanyl can be especially dangerous.
“The danger with mixing heroin with fentanyl or any other substance is you have no idea how powerful it is,” said Dr. Oliver Mayorga, the Emergency Medicine Chair at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London.
Lawrence & Memorial has recently seen an “unprecedented number of heroin overdoses,” about 30 in a roughly month-long period earlier this year.
“The scary thing with the drugs that are out there right now, they’re laced with other things so we’re not really sure the therapy that we’re giving, the Narcan therapy we’re giving, is going to work or not,” said Ron Kersey, the EMS coordinator at Lawrence & Memorial.
Paramedics must carefully watch patients and if necessary provide multi doses of Narcan to counter the effects of the heroin overdoses, which can stall breathing.
The rush of heroin into the area has also increased the number of related criminal cases.
Outside the Superior Court in New London, Gordon Videll, the attorney for Lorenzo Malcolm, would not comment on the current criminal case involving his client, but did address the greater issue of heroin invading the state.
“This is an epidemic for sure and it’s a health epidemic as much as a criminal epidemic,” said Videll.