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10 Routine Traffic Stops That Led to Unbelievable Discoveries

by Julie Henthorn
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Traffic stops can happen for a variety of reasons—improperly functioning tail or brake lights, expired tags, running a stop sign or traffic light, or speeding. Typically, most traffic stops end in a simple citation (or a warning if you’re lucky), and from there, the officer and driver simply go their separate ways.

Although these routine traffic stops seem to blend into the mundane rhythm of everyday life and commutes, the stops on this list were not quite so simple for either party, leading officers to far more interesting finds than just expired registrations or a broken tail light.

From once-in-a-lifetime encounters with wanted criminals to a fateful stop that led to a life-saving medical diagnosis to unusual items hidden in the strangest of places, these stories showcase the unpredictable side of law enforcement and the astonishing revelations that can unfold on the side of the road.

Here are ten routine traffic stops that led to absolutely unbelievable discoveries.

Related: Top 10 Crazy Things Police Mistook For Drugs

10 After Nearly 30 Years, Justice Is Finally Served

28 years later: Traffic stop catches fugitive wanted for 1994 Atlanta homicide

On August 16, 2022, Deputy Devan Blair of Oconee County, Georgia, stopped a Mazda that had come back from a registration check as having no current registration or insurance. Little did Deputy Blair know that her sharp eyes would lead to the apprehension of a man wanted for a decades-old murder. The driver identified himself as Rais Sekhem and handed the deputy a South Carolina driver’s license. However, when run through a law enforcement database, the license was flagged as having an active suspension. The driver claimed he was not sure why his license was suspended.

Deputy Lex Ogan then arrived as backup, and the deputies went on to explain to the driver that he was being arrested for the expired registration, no insurance, and a suspended license. This did not go over well with the driver, and he instead asked for citations, saying, “I beg of you. I beg of all of you. I have children, I have a sick uncle, and I run the household. I’m not a criminal; I’m not a crook.” Deputies would soon discover that this was, in fact, not the case.

The driver was then taken to the Oconee County Jail, and once he was fingerprinted, not only did deputies discover that the driver was really 47-year-old Muhammed Bilal El-Amin, but that he also had an active fugitive warrant from the Atlanta Police Department from 1994.

Just before 1 p.m. on November 27, 1994, El-Amin, then 19 years old, pulled out a gun, shot his friend, 18-year-old Jafferd Tucker Jr., in the face at the Oakland MARTA Station in Atlanta, Georgia, and then ran. Unfortunately, Tucker died at the scene, and El-Amin was not identified as a suspect until three days after the shooting. On May 25, 2001, a federal warrant was issued charging El-Amin with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and he became classified as “most wanted” by the FBI. Although investigators are unsure how, El-Amin was able to evade capture for nearly three decades—that is, until a routine traffic stop.

El-Amin has been charged with murder, felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.[1]

9 A Blessing in Disguise

Traffic stop ends up being lifesaving medical emergency l GMA

On December 2, 2022, police officers were called to a highway in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, regarding a potential drunk driver. Officer Raymond Schoonmaker and Patrolman Bret Aton noticed a red SUV driving erratically, hitting the curb, and veering in and out of lanes multiple times. Little did the officers know that this routine traffic stop would be a blessing in disguise.

Officers pulled the SUV over and questioned the driver, Tamara Palmer, but determined that she was not impaired by alcohol or drugs. Palmer was, however, complaining of a brutal headache, leading officers to realize she was suffering from a serious medical emergency. They then called for an ambulance.

Once Palmer arrived at the hospital, a series of tests followed by a CT scan revealed a brain tumor “the size of a nice big orange at Trader Joe’s.” Although neither Palmer nor her surgeon, Alex Vandergrift, knows for sure, it is believed that the cause of Palmer’s tumor began 37 years prior. In April 1986, 22-year-old Palmer lived just 10 miles (16 km) from the Chornobyl nuclear power plant explosion in Ukraine. She remained in the area for three days after the explosion, believing there was no danger.

On December 4, 2022, Palmer was taken in for an emergency surgery. Thankfully, the operation was successful, and Palmer was discharged two days later. One week after Palmer’s surgery, she celebrated her 58th birthday and credits the two officers who pulled her over with giving her the best birthday gift—her life.[2]

8 Reptile Rendezvous

Florida woman pulls gator from her yoga pants during a traffic stop in Punta Gorda

Around 3:15 a.m. on May 6, 2019, two Charlotte County sheriff’s deputies observed a blue 2013 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck blow through a stop sign in Punta Gorda, Florida. Deputies then pulled the vehicle over and asked the man and woman inside where they were coming from.

The driver, 22-year-old Michael Cody Clemons, told officers that he and his passenger, 25-year-old Ariel Michelle Marchan-Le Quire, had been collecting frogs and snakes from under a nearby overpass. Florida law does not allow the capture or possession of any poisonous or venomous reptile—copperheads, eastern diamondbacks, coral snakes, and such—without a special permit or license from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Therefore, a deputy asked the pair if they would open their backpacks just to ensure that the two hadn’t collected any protected wildlife.

While Clemons’s bag contained clothes and other personal items, Marchan-Le Quire had more than 40 turtles inside a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack (oh, the irony!). The deputy then asked Marchan-Le Quire if she had “anything else,” and that is when this routine traffic stop turned even more bizarre. Marchan-Le Quire then pulled a 1-foot (0.3-meter) alligator out of her yoga pants and placed it into the bed of the truck. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission was then called to take over the investigation, and all the reptiles were seized and released.

Clemons was given a warning for the stop sign violation but was charged with taking or possessing more than one turtle per day and transporting more than one turtle or turtle eggs. On September 20, 2019, he was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and ordered to donate $250 to the state’s Wildlife Alert Fund.

Marchan-Le Quire was charged with one count of taking or possessing an American alligator, taking or possessing more than one turtle per day, one count of transporting more than one turtle or egg, and one count of taking or possessing a softshell turtle. On August 14, 2019, she was sentenced to 24 months of probation. Marchan-Le Quire was also ordered to complete 200 hours of community service and make a $500 donation to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Fund.[3]

7 At the Right Place at Just the Right Time

Detroit police officers help get 4 abducted children to safety

Around 7:30 a.m. on November 30, 2021, 37-year-old Stephanie Marie Binder was pulled over by Detroit, Michigan, police for running a red light. However, this perfectly timed traffic stop would lead to far more than a simple citation—it would ultimately save the lives of four innocent children.

When officers approached the passenger side of the van, they noticed four children—an 11-year-old boy, an eight-year-old girl, a seven-year-old boy, and a five-year-old boy—in the backseat, crying and visibly upset. Binder claimed she was in a rush to get the children to school, but when police asked Binder what school the children attended, she couldn’t answer. At this point, officers realized something wasn’t quite right with Binder’s body language, so instead of just simply writing a ticket, they began asking more questions. They then asked Binder if the children were hers, and while she claimed they were, when asked the same question, the children shook their heads no.

Binder was detained, and it was later discovered that not only was she driving a stolen vehicle but that she had also kidnapped the four siblings as they were walking to school. Thankfully, the children were reunited with their family.

Binder, who has a lengthy criminal history, was taken into custody and charged with four counts of kidnapping-child enticement, four counts of unlawful imprisonment, one count of unlawfully driving away of an automobile, and concealing a stolen motor vehicle.[4]

6 Furry Stowaway

Missing Family Cat Found in Car Engine During Traffic Stop

Jennifer Hayes was on her way home to Newcastle, Utah, after visiting family when she was pulled over by Deputy Allen in La Verkin, Utah, for a minor traffic violation on September 27, 2023. However, just as Deputy Allen was about to let Hayes go, he heard a weird noise—a meowing or purring coming from underneath the hood of the vehicle.

Hayes stated that their six-month-old family cat, Gus, had gone missing a day and a half before the traffic stop. In that time, they had driven approximately 200 miles (321 km). When Allen walked to the front of Hayes’s car, he saw a furry paw sticking out of the car’s grill. At first, the feline fought against efforts to free him from the engine compartment, but he eventually gave in, and within just four minutes, Gus was reunited with his family, uninjured. The entire rescue was captured on Allen’s body cam.

Not only did Hayes not get a ticket, but this simple traffic stop turned into an answered prayer for the family.[5]

5 You Have a Gun… Where?

Woman Hides Loaded Gun in Her Private Parts

Just after 11:00 p.m. on September 7, 2015, officers pulled over a 1998 Toyota Land Cruiser in Waco, Texas, for a traffic violation. During the stop, officers discovered that the driver, 30-year-old Gabriel Garcia, was hiding 2.7 grams of methamphetamine under his driver’s seat. A further search of the vehicle also revealed that a female passenger, 31-year-old Ashley Cecilia Castaneda, had another 29.5 grams of methamphetamine in her purse, along with a set of digital scales.

Because the traffic stop occurred within 1,000 feet (304 meters) of an elementary school, both Garcia and Castaneda were arrested and charged with possession of methamphetamine in a drug-free zone. However, as the two were being transported to jail, this traffic-stop-turned-drug-bust became even more bizarre. Castaneda then told officers that she had “concealed a handgun inside her private parts.”

Officers immediately pulled over, and a female officer was called to search Castaneda. The cavity search revealed that Castaneda had, in fact, placed a loaded .22 caliber Smith and Wesson pistol inside her vagina. The weapon was taken into evidence, and Castaneda was also charged with unlawfully carrying a weapon.

On June 20, 2017, Castaneda was sentenced to 10 years on deferred probation for methamphetamine possession. She was also ordered to pay a $2,500 fine and serve 300 hours of community service.[6]

4 Surprise Roadside Reunion

N.J. state trooper stops retired cop who delivered him as a baby

On June 1, 2018, New Jersey State Trooper Michael Patterson pulled over Matthew Bailly in Kingwood Township because of his vehicle’s tinted windows. However, this minor infraction would lead to a surprise reunion three decades in the making.

As the two men struck up a conversation, Bailly mentioned that he was a retired police officer from Piscataway, where Patterson grew up. This coincidence prompted Bailly to ask Patterson where he used to live. When Patterson told Bailly that he grew up on Poe Place, Bailly told him that he remembered that street well because he helped deliver a baby there 27 years ago when he was just a “rookie cop.” In fact, that experience had stayed with Bailly to the extent that he could describe the house’s color and style and even recalled the baby’s name—Michael.

Interestingly enough, Patterson’s mother told him a similar story every year on his birthday about a baby who was born thanks to the help of a quick-thinking police officer. At that moment, Patterson realized the man he had pulled over was the same man who had delivered him nearly three decades before. The trooper then stuck out his hand for a handshake and said, “My name is Michael Patterson, sir. Thank you for delivering me.”

Needless to say, Bailly did not get a ticket, although he was advised to correct the problem. The two men also exchanged contact information, and after the traffic stop, Patterson brought his mom to Bailly’s home for another reunion.[7]

3 “Be Careful, Officer, They Are Aggressive”

WATCH: Texas authorities find 27 illegal immigrants in horse trailer during traffic stop

On May 24, 2024, a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper stopped a Ford F-250 towing a horse trailer near McAllen, Texas. When the driver, Jose Guadalupe Salinas, was questioned as to the contents of the trailer, he told officers there were two horses inside.

Officers then asked to see the horses and for consent to search the trailer. Salinas agreed but advised the officer to “be careful; they are aggressive.” Salinas then voluntarily opened the side hatch for the officer, but instead of two horses, troopers discovered 27 illegal immigrants crammed inside a storage area of the trailer, “distressed and sweating profusely.” Three females were also severely dehydrated and required medical attention due to extreme heat and no ventilation.

DPS referred the 27 Mexico natives to the U.S. Border Patrol, who also took custody of Salinas. Border Patrol is expected to file federal person smuggling charges against Salinas.[8]

2 When Is the Baby Due?

Deputies find cocaine brick in fake pregnant belly

Forty-one-year-old Cemeka Mitchem and 60-year-old Anthony Miller were pulled over on April 12, 2023, in Anderson, South Carolina. Miller was driving erratically, weaved through multiple lanes, and nearly collided with a semi-truck.

When deputies talked to the couple, they not only volunteered information that Mitchem was pregnant but also behaved nervously. The two then gave conflicting information about Mitchem’s “due date” and their destination, raising red flags with deputies. When Mitchem realized that deputies were becoming more suspicious of her story, she attempted to make a run for it, but in doing so, 1,500 grams of cocaine fell out from the fake rubber belly she had taped to herself.

Both Miller and Mitchem were arrested and charged with trafficking cocaine.[9]

1 Both Hands on the Wheel, Please!

What NOT To Do During a Traffic Stop

Around 4 p.m. on October 20, 2021, a traffic officer in Toronto, Canada, spotted a driver playing his flute with both hands. Although he was initially playing while stopped at a red light, he continued playing when the light turned green. The man was pulled over, and the officer was shocked to find “the driver playing his flute with both hands and following along to an iPod,” all while driving.

The unnamed driver, who is in his 40s, was charged with “start from stopped position not in safety” under the Ontario Traffic Act.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen