ST. LOUIS - Car after car, they line up. Then before you know it, they’re gone.
And for those who’ve seen it go down, they’re left feeling total fear and frustration.
Because they say the cars always return with little to no consequence.
“Sometimes we go a month at a time without seeing it, but it always comes back. It always comes back,” said one St. Louis woman.
She only agreed to speak to Five on Your Side if we concealed her identity and address.
She said she’s been threatened before for speaking out about a problem she estimates has been going on for at least two years.
“I took those threats very seriously. Are they going to come back and rob our house? Did they see something in my yard they want to steal?” she explained.
The woman lives in St. Louis’ Cheltenham neighborhood, which is a small area bordered by Hampton, Oakland, Macklind and Manchester.
She said it’s a quiet area that doesn’t normally attract a lot of traffic.
“It’s a very off the beaten path neighborhood. It’s a very tight knit neighborhood. Everybody knows everybody,” she said.
But she said many residents are concerned about what they believe to be a rise in suspected drug activity.
“This isn’t our job to deal with this. This isn’t our job to confront people or take care of this. It makes us live in total fear,” she said.
But the activity in question is far more advanced than your typical drug house on a bad side of town.
Surveillance footage from neighbors suggest it’s a very lucrative enterprise that operates more like a fast food restaurant at all times of day.
“The drug dealer shows up, pulls over on the wrong side of the street. Each car pulls up to the passenger window one by one. You see the exchange. The car drives off. The next car moves up. It’s like a drive-thru window,” she explained.
She said it’s difficult to see exactly what’s being exchanged, but she and neighbors believe it’s heroin.
“I find it hard to believe they’re exchanging Bible verses,” she said.
And as Five on Your Side Investigates discovered, these drive-thru drug deals aren’t just happening on the city’s southwest side.
“It’s happening in all parts of the area. The Landing. Delmar Loop. Hamilton Heights. North County,” explained Chad Sabora, a former heroin addict turned activist.
Sabora showed us that when he used to buy, he’d meet his dealer at convenience store parking lots in Jennings and Bellefontaine Neighbors.
“Sometimes it’s just you, but other times it’ll be a train of five to 10 cars. All following this one car,” Sabora explained.
He said then they’d go to a neighborhood of the dealer’s choosing and close the deal in a matter of minutes.
Sabora said, “He’s looking for no people looking out the windows and no people driving down the neighborhood.”
Sabora said the exchanges can be pretty pricey too.
“I will toss $50 to $100 in there, whatever we agreed upon before. As soon as he sees the money, he tosses the drugs from his car to my car. I drive off. He can do 10 deals in less than two minutes. I mean, you can make $1,000 in business in two minutes or less,” he explained.
So what makes the activity so difficult to stop?
Sabora said dealers will use rental or stolen cars with tinted windows. He also said they like to rotate between neighborhoods.
“With this method, they can just keep switching neighborhoods, keep switching cars,” he said.
But back in the Cheltenham neighborhood, neighbors remain resolved to keep the drugs from taking over the area.
Some people told Five on Your Side they’ve had physical altercations with dealers to try and keep them from coming back.
But those efforts haven’t really worked.
Still, surveillance cameras keep rolling.
“Every business has video surveillance. So if they think they’re being tricky, they’re not,” said the woman we’re not identifying.
She said just giving up on the problem isn’t an option.
“We understand the police department is busy. But we’d also like to think our neighborhood counts too before something happens. Not the aftermath,” she said.
Five on Your Side reached out to both the St. Louis County Police Department and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for comment.
SLMPD sent us this statement:
We spoke with the Captain of the Second District and he advised the district has been aware of the issues in this part of the neighborhood for over two years now. In the past, residents have provided videos/photos of the drug activity and the department has made arrests connected to that activity. The Captain said the concerns have been discussed at past neighborhood meetings and the alderman is also aware of the department's continued initiatives to address the issues. The department continues to monitor the area for illegal activity and encourages anyone who sees crime being committed to dial 911.
We have yet to receive information from St. Louis County police.
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