Drug runners don't often develop strong friendships with law enforcement officers.

But it happened in south-central Utah, where the advice of a deputy sheriff changed the life of a former drug runner.Two years after Sevier County deputy Phil Barney arrested him for having 28 kilos of cocaine in his possession, John (not his real name) returned to Sevier County to thank the officer who had thrown him into jail.

"When he saw me he gave me a hug, said he was back with his family and that he had turned his life around," Barney said. "In my opinion he is very sincere."

"Phil Barney has changed my whole life around," John told the Richfield Reaper. "I was separated from my family. Now we are back together. Now I have family and friends. I came back here to thank Mr. Barney personally."

Barney has made many drug arrests along I-70, the highway frequently referred to as "Cocaine Lane." Sevier County Sheriff John Meacham has repeatedly said Barney seems to have a sixth sense for ferreting out drug runners.

While Barney believes criminals must pay for their illegal actions, his respectful attitude and desire to help them change their lives has led to more than just consent searches and arrests.

Since his arrest two years ago, John has cooperated with law enforcement authorities in leading them to major drug dealers as well as helping to identify some immigration agents in California who have literally "turned their heads" and ignore drugs coming into the United States from Mexico.

Barney had stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation on Feb. 2, 1996, when he noticed a van weaving along the highway. Three people were inside. John was driving.

"When I pulled him over, he just fell apart, couldn't even talk," Barney said. The deputy became suspicious when John gave a different story than his passengers.

"One said they were going to St. Louis, another Detroit and another to New York," Barney recalled.

After John consented to a search, Barney discovered 28 kilos of cocaine inside the van. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was given two years probation. In exchange, he agreed to cooperate with officers in their fight against illegal drugs.

John and his companion agreed to participate in a "controlled delivery" of the cocaine in Detroit while officers watched - a practice sometimes used by police to obtain proof of illegal drug activity.

"He couldn't sell all of the drug, only part of it," Barney said. "But he identified the person and helped in arrests of a Chicago-Detroit drug cartel. Those men are now in prison."

Barney had extensive conversations with John while in Detroit and while they returned to Utah. "I told him there is nothing more important than family," the officer recalled. He emphasized and pre-dict-ed that the men would lose their families if they continued running drugs.

"You get kind of an attachment with them," Barney said. "The other was a family man but I think he (John) has truly changed his life."

John also told Barney he could identify some agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service who were "turning their heads" to drugs coming across the California-Mexico border. After speaking with California officers, Barney learned John also helped stop and confiscate several large loads of drugs.

Barney says he often offers advice to those he arrests. Such a tendency comes naturally to him. He has served as president of the Salina Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the past seven years.