ASHEVILLE, N.C. --
A Hispanic man traveling through western North Carolina was charged with possession of 91 pounds of cocaine, but it turns out he was only carrying tortilla dough, cooking flour and shrimp.
Antonio Hernandez Carranza was arrested on May 1, when a Buncombe County deputy found his car, with its hazard lights on, stopped on the side of Interstate 240.
Deputies said Carranza drove away when they knocked on his window, and that they had to chase him at 45 mph, for three miles. They said when Carranza stopped, they had to pull him out of the car.
Deputies said Carranza appeared intoxicated, though he was later deemed sober by a Breathalyzer test. They said a narcotics dog alerted officers to check Carranza's baggage, and multiple narcotics field tests determined that the substances were cocaine.
The tests gave deputies probable cause to detain Carranza, investigators said, but when a State Bureau of Investigation lab tested the materials, the results were negative for narcotics. They said the substances turned out to be flour and other foods Carranza told them were meant as gifts for his family in Tennessee.
Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan said the cocaine charges against Carranza were dropped, but he did plead guilty to failure to stop for officers.
Hispanic advocate groups said the situation would have been different if Carranza spoke better English.
"They didn't walk up asking him to get out of the car," said Jackie Fitzgerald, a Hispanic advocate who helped Carranza. "They came over, pulled him out of the car, threw him on the ground, put their knee in his back and roughed him up. And then threw him in the police car and insisted that he was intoxicated, when he wasn't."
Duncan said Carranza's ethnicity had nothing to do with the precautions his deputies took. He said his deputies followed procedure.
"His behavior was erratic and bizarre from the beginning of the encounter," Duncan said. "By his own admission, he had driven three days straight. He was just so fatigued that it caused him not to think clearly and not to respond normally."
Deputies said Carranza was driving from California to Johnson City, Tenn., when he made a wrong turn and ended up in Asheville.
Duncan said that after this mistake, the department is concerned about its narcotics field tests, and that he is working with the manufacturers to see what went wrong.
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