LONG BEACH — Thousands of tourists have sought thrills at the Merrill family’s downtown complex of go-kart, bumper car and moped rental businesses. Now, current owner Robert Anthony “Tony” Merrill, 51, and his live-in girlfriend Doreen Marie Morris, 50, are in for a bumpy ride of their own — they are each facing multiple felony charges, following an April 4 raid in which police allegedly seized suspected heroin, meth, prescription pills, almost $2,000 in cash and an allegedly stolen vintage motorcycle.
Selling more than rides?
The raid was the result of a joint investigation that Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) initiated in fall 2016, Chief Criminal Deputy Pat Matlock of the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office said on April 5. The two agencies sought search warrants after an informant allegedly purchased heroin and meth from Merrill’s businesses on at least three occasions, according to Matlock.
“Merrill and Morris appeared to be making the sales,” Matlock said.
Officers from LBPD and other agencies served warrants at Long Beach Mopeds, Long Beach Go-Karts and Long Beach Krazy Kars at around 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning. The businesses occupy a city block at the intersection of Sid Snyder Boulevard and Pacific Avenue. They also served a warrant at Merrill and Morris’s home in the 1700 block of Ocean Beach Boulevard.
Merrill and Morris were arrested during the search and taken to Pacific County Jail.
No bike rentals anytime soon
In downtown Long Beach, Raymond officer Sean Jarvis escorted Deko, a drug-sniffing German shepherd around the buildings at about 11 a.m. Tuesday, while Long Beach officers Casey Meling and Rodney Nawn began combing through the jumbled contents of Long Beach Mopeds.
Officers standing watch outside fended off curious onlookers and tourists. A family of cyclists warily approached the moped rental office, explaining that the owner had offered to fill their bike tires. They were turned away.
“You’re not going to disappoint us, are you?” asked a surprised-looking vacationing mom who had just unloaded her family in front of the go-kart ticket office.
“I’m afraid I am,” a Washington State Patrol trooper replied. At that point, officers cut the zip-ties that secured a large “OPEN” sign to a telephone pole and hauled it into the shop.
Investigators pried open lock-boxes, sifted through drawers and tried to find a path through a dim garage crammed with bikes, mopeds and parts. An open door at the large, green bumper car building revealed a small front room that had been set up as a makeshift barber shop. The room was littered with empty propane cans, but nothing of obvious interest to police.
A briefcase full of drugs
On the other side of town, a PCSO deputy and his canine partner Ciko were having better luck. When Ciko caught the scent of something big, Jarvis took his dog to help search the home.
While looking through the bedroom that Merrill and Morris share, investigators found a purse belonging to Morris that contained at least $800 in cash, about 29 grams of suspected heroin and 4.5 grams of suspected meth, Matlock said. Field tests for the suspected drugs were positive.
With tar heroin typically selling for between $80 and $100 per gram in Washington, that quantity could have a street value of up to $2,900.
“You can take those amounts and package them as if you were going to sell,” Matlock said.
Police also discovered a metal briefcase in the bedroom. According to Matlock, Merrill used the briefcase to carry cash deposits to the bank. It allegedly contained about $1,000 in cash, and containers of substances that tested positive for meth and heroin. Matlock said he did not know yet how much of each substance was in the briefcase.
When one of the dogs allegedly detected drugs inside of Merrill’s Ford F-350, investigators sought an additional search warrant. Matlock said they allegedly found Merrill’s phone, a digital weigh scale coated in suspected heroin residue, and two more containers of suspected heroin. Matlock didn’t know how much alleged heroin was inside the truck.
At 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, investigators from PCSO, Raymond PD, LBPD and the Department of Fish and Wildlife were still searching Merrill’s home.
Back at the amusement businesses, officers allegedly found several baggies containing prescription pills. On Wednesday, investigators had not yet determined what type of pills they had seized. They also found a motorcycle in one of the storage buildings. When officers ran a search on the bike’s identification number, they learned that it had been reported stolen some time ago. A towing company hauled the motorcycle away at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Complex business arrangements
During the raid, Long Beach Mayor Jerry Phillips posted notices on the doors of all three businesses, announcing the city had canceled all of Merrill’s business licenses. That move effectively shuts down the popular entertainment businesses just as the busy tourist season is approaching.
Matlock said investigators are still trying to learn more about Merrill’s businesses and assets, but they suspect that the downtown amusement park may have functioned as a sort of “drug-front.” If, indeed, finances from Merrill’s alleged drug business are intertwined with his amusement enterprises, it could take months to wrap up the investigation and determine how to deal with Merrill’s properties. County property records show that the three parcels that make up most of the downtown complex are owned by the “Merrill Partnership.” Together, they have an assessed property value of more than $647,000.
The state of Merrill’s business affairs could complicate matters. Records from several state agencies show that Merrill and his relatives started at least nine separate corporations, spanning back to the 1990s. Many of their corporate registrations, business licenses and Department of Labor and Industries accounts have not been active for quite some time. Different agencies list different managing parties for the downtown businesses. Additionally, it is not clear yet how any legal action against Merrill and Morris might affect family members who are involved in the ownership or operation of his properties and businesses.
As of Wednesday evening, Merrill and Morris remained in the jail. They have each been charged with six counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, Matlock said. The charges come with a “school zone enhancement,” because the businesses are located near a school bus stop. If they are convicted, the enhancement means that they could face longer sentences. Merrill faces an additional charge of possession of a stolen vehicle.
The two made their first court appearance on April 5. Morris is being held on $100,000 bail. Merrill is being held on $250,000 bail.
This is a developing story. Look for updates in next week’s Chinook Observer.