Salt Lake City Fire Department hazmat truck responds to apartment explosion believed to be caused by narcotics operation involving St. George resident Brianna Westre, 22, in Salt Lake City , Utah, January 23, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Salt Lake City Fire Department, St. George News
ST. GEORGE- A suspect with a long criminal history in Washington County has been arrested by US Marshal Service officers for her alleged involvement in a federal case involving a reported explosion and fire at a downtown Salt Lake apartment complex City last year.
Brianna Valiere Westre, 22, of St. George is in custody at the Purgatory Correctional Facility following an arrest Friday by the US Marshals Office on a federal warrant issued by US District Court in Salt Lake City a few hours earlier. The defendant faces two federal counts, including attempting to manufacture a controlled substance and endangering human life while unlawfully manufacturing a controlled substance – aiding and abetting.
The warrant was issued in connection with a case filed in federal court in March last year following a reported explosion and fire at the defendant’s apartment complex on January 23. 2021 – a residence that federal prosecutors say was a 151-unit apartment complex at 360 South and 400 West in downtown Salt Lake City.
According to federal documents filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela Jean Clifford-Salisbury shortly after the incident, Westre and his co-defendant, 26-year-old Ryan Joseph Cahouet, used the apartment as a “manufacturing site” to make DMT, or N,N-dimethyltryptamine, which is a hallucinogen found in a number of plant materials but can also be mined or produced synthetically in clandestine labs, the DEA says.
It was the highly flammable chemicals used in an illicit mining process, prosecutors say, that sparked the explosion and fire that caused so much damage it not only rendered the suspect’s apartment uninhabitable, but also destroyed a second unit where the occupants were forced out. their house. An elevator was also badly damaged in the fire.
The federal prosecutor also noted that investigators in charge of the initial explosion said the only reason more lives or property were not lost was as a result of the excellent work of the firefighters. Luck also contributed to the favorable outcome, Salisbury added, as the building was a newer structure that was only a few years old and had an excellent sprinkler system.
Detectives found a number of buckets filled with dangerous chemicals used in the DMT extraction process during a search of the suspect’s apartment, along with other materials that were at various stages of the process.
Investigators also determined that the chemicals used to extract the DMT were highly flammable – so much so that a hazmat team was deployed to help decontaminate the apartment.
During the investigation, officers also learned that Westre was aware of the dangers associated with making DMT, based on several recorded phone calls she made from jail after her arrest, during which, according to the indictment, Westre allegedly told several friends and family that she and her co-accused “planned to clear the operation apartment in the coming days.”
In addition to evidence collected during the DMT extraction operation, officers also recovered a tent with fertilizer allegedly used for growing marijuana plants, as well as a scale, vacuum sealers with bags containing suspected heroin residue, large amounts of lighter fuel, a pressurized whipped cream dispenser with a handwritten label to “blow off” the chemicals.
Detectives also recovered 9mm casings scattered throughout the unit, as well as a bulk container of codeine cough syrup, three prescription bottles of Ambien, a synthetic stimulant and hallucinogen MDMA , as well as bongs and rolled American banknotes.
When officers went through the defendant’s criminal history, they learned of several felony drug cases filed against Westre in the year and a half following the March 2021 arrest; offenses that federal prosecutors say were increasingly serious, including a case filed two weeks prior in St. George involving child endangerment, possession of others’ identification documents, weapons and drug charges.
In fact, the government noted, the accused was on bail with five cases pending in St. George’s 5th District Court when the indictment was filed in March last year.
Also, within days of the indictment being filed, a warrant for the suspect’s arrest was issued, and she was aware of it. But, in several recorded calls to the jail, officers could hear Westre’s co-defendant “repeatedly urging her to surrender,” which the defendant did not, prosecutors say.
Federal Court records also indicate that in a number of other phone conversations with his co-defendant from jail, investigators say Westre allegedly “laughed at the government” for filing the federal complaint and the warrant then. that she was still in state custody. .
After her release from local cases, prosecutors said the defendant began bouncing between Cache County and Washington County to avoid arrest on federal charges in a case Westre handled “with a lack of seriously disturbing,” Salisbury noted.
The order ended by saying the defendant’s actions over the past year and the escalating nature of her offences, as well as her disregard for court orders and her “utter disregard for human life and safety. others,” says West poses “an overwhelming danger to the community if released.
Less than two weeks before the Salt Lake City explosion, Westre’s co-defendant, Cahouet, was arrested in St. George on a warrant issued in Salt Lake City for aggravated assault and riot charges. He was jailed in Washington County and released a few days later when a judge up north cleared bail and he was able to post bond.
In this case, the charges were filed in relation to an incident reported five months earlier that involved three young men who were severely beaten at a house party in northern Utah. This case is still pending before the courts.
On February 18, 2021, a month after the apartment explosion, Cahouet was indicted in federal court.
The federal case against Westre and Cahouet is scheduled for a jury trial in Salt Lake City next month.
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