Kern Co. Sheriff's Office: Gunfire erupts during pot farm bust

Kern Co. Sheriff's Office: Gunfire erupts during pot farm bust »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Four suspects were finally arrested after a day-long manhunt northeast of Bakersfield. They were tracked down after officers say shots were fired at a suspected marijuana grow.

Gunshots were heard Friday when Kern County deputies, federal drug agents and Forest Service workers served a search warrant at a remote location off Breckenridge Road and about 8 miles northeast of Comanche Drive.

It happened around 6:30 a.m. First there was one shot, and authorities took cover.

"Several minutes later, they heard numerous gunshots coming from the area of the marijuana grow," Kern County Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said.

He said officers didn't return fire, and it wasn't clear if shots were fired directly at the officers or more as warning shots.

Officers immediately set up a perimeter, and hoped to trap the suspects in the rugged and rolling hills. Roads were closed off to block access to the suspects, and as a precaution for the public.

At least two helicopters were called out, and they started a search from the air. Other officers searched on foot through thick brush.

"It's terrible, it's just terrible," Sandy Colvin told Eyewitness News. "We're not safe anywhere." She's lived in the area for about seven years.

Colvin said she hadn't been up Breckenridge as far as where the officers were staged, but she hadn't noticed anything suspicious.

Remote areas are the current target for pot farms, according to officers.

"What we're seeing this year is an increase in the number of marijuana grows that are in mountain areas," Pruitt said. "And in most cases, we do encounter suspects who are armed."

Pruitt said another big grow was raided on Thursday. It was near the summit of Highway 155 in the Glennville area.

It was a U.S. Forest Service investigation, but the Kern County Sheriff's SWAT team was serving the search warrant, according to Pruitt. That grow had some 6,200 mature marijuana plants.

Pruitt said officers encountered a suspect with a shotgun, but he dropped it when ordered to, and took off running. The man was arrested after a short chase.

Pruitt said he's from Guatemala. And a second rifle was also found at that grow.

On Friday, the marijuana was being grown at the bottom of a steep ravine. Officers had hiked down to it, when the shots were fired. The search then continued down that ravine, where they thought the suspects were probably hiding in thick brush.

That's where the four were eventually captured, and Pruitt said some guns were also seized. He wouldn't describe the weapons or say how many.

Officers believed there could be more suspects, and they continued to search the area late on Friday.

These situations are dangerous for officers and the public, Pruitt said.

Resident Sandy Colvin agrees. "I know now, and I'll be more observant of the goings on up here," she said.

The manhunt took up most of the officers' day on Friday, Pruitt said next they'd tackle the marijuana grow.

"We've seen the plants," Pruitt said. "It's been described to me as a very large marijuana grow."

And the armed suspects guarding it are another example of the hazards, he says. "This situation does underscore how dangerous these marijuana grows can be."