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In court: Troopers find stash of cash, fake credit cardsTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
Kenneth Lewis
Courtesy Photo­Image
Evelyn Barnes
Courtesy Photo­Image
Sonya Phelps

After breaking open two safes inside an Illinois car, Mebraska State Troopers found dozens of stolen credit cards, a bundle of cash and some fake IDs.

The items were in a car occupied by a man and two women from Chicago.

Kenneth Lewis, 30, Evelyn Barnes, 47, and Sonya Phelps, 46, were speeding east on Interstate 80 Sept. 21 when they were stopped by Nebraska State Trooper Ryan Hayes.

Hayes took the stand Thursday in Lincoln County Court to talk about the arrest.

Hayes said the car was going 87 miles an hour. He stopped it a couple miles from the Hershey interchange and questioned the driver, Sonya Phelps. Hayes said he thought her story sounded suspicious, so he also questioned both passengers, who also seemed to have trouble getting their stories to match.

Hayes said he asked for permission to search the vehicle. They refused, so he called for help, and Trooper Jeremiah Johnson arrived with a drug-detection dog. The dog indicated the odor of drugs, giving the troopers probable cause to search the vehicle.

Hayes said he put Phelps in the front seat of his cruiser and Lewis in the back. Barnes was in Johnson's patrol truck. Hayes said he activated the video cameras and microphones in his cruiser while he searched their car.

He said he found two small black safes, one in a duffle bag and another in a suitcase.

Hayes said Lewis claimed to own a duffle bag, but not the one with the safe, and Barnes claimed to have a suitcase, but not the one with the safe.

He said both safes were locked. He found a key during the search but it didn’t fit, so he asked Lewis to open the safes. Lewis said he didn’t have the keys, so Hayes took the car to a repair shop in Hershey.

Hayes testified that the safes were forced open at the shop, and found 15 credit cards, a fake Missouri driver’s license and $17,000 cash in one of them.

And, he said the safe from the suitcase contained even more credit cards and another fake Missouri license in the name of Ann Hall. He said he checked the numbers on the credit cards and found them listed as stolen.

Hayes also testified that the video in his cruiser recorded Lewis asking Phelps if he should “toss them (the keys) or what?” Lewis took keys out of his pocket and passed them through the security screen of the cruiser to Phelps in front. Hayes said the camera showed Phelps looking for a place to hide them.

And, the keys to the safes were later found under the carpet near the center console of the cruiser, Hayes said.

Defense attorney Amanda Speichert asked Hayes if he read the Miranda rights to the suspects when he confined them in his squad car.

Deputy County Attorney Austin Leighty objected.

Lincoln County Judge Kent Turnbull overruled the objection and allowed Hayes to answer.

Hayes said he did not read the defendants their rights in the car. He said they were detained at that point but not under arrest.

There was no question that Hayes read the three their rights when he arrested them after opening the safes.

All three were initially cited for possession of a forged object, criminal impersonation, ID theft and fraud.

Currently, Barnes and Phelps are just charged with possession of a forged object, according to sheriff's records. Lewis is charged with possession of a forged object, criminal impersonation, ID theft and fraud.

Speichert moved to dismiss those charges against Lewis. She said the prosecution did not prove that Lewis ever had possession of the cards or ever used them.

Turnbull ruled that the evidence was overwhelming and showed probable cause to bind the case over to district court.

This report was corrected Oct. 8, when more information was provided about who sat in which car and who claimed to own which pieces of luggage. -Editor.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 10/5/2012
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