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Marijuana eradication operation turns into ordeal for officers

Grow sites had street value of nearly $3.5 million

What started out as a one-day marijuana eradication operation in eastern Skamania County turned into a 30-plus hour search and rescue ordeal for nine officers.

On Saturday, Aug. 11, at approximately 7 a.m. nine officers -- four from the Clark/Skamania Drug Task Force and five Skamania County Sheriff's Office deputies -- left Stevenson for a marijuana eradication operation in the Dog Creek Drainage area.

The men had to initially climb Dog Mountain and then traverse 1500 feet of rough, steep terrain to reach the grow site.

According to SCSO Undersheriff Dave Cox, the men reached the area at approximately 1 p.m. and started the eradication. They finished about 3:30 p.m.

"They were all pretty exhausted but chose to come out through the drainage rather than climb back the way they had come in," said Cox.

At about 5 p.m., one of the Task Force officers began cramping up. According to Cox, the cramping was a result of dehydration and exhaustion.

Undersheriff Cox requested helicopter support for the downed officer about 6 p.m. Due to the terrain in the area, the helicopter was unable to make contact with the group. It was decided that two SCSO deputies would stay with the officer, while the six remaining eradication team members would continue on.

Cox said the remaining six had to descend from the area walking around and over cliffs and waterfalls. Cox said, the six divided into two groups of three and continued their trek. In the interim, an additional sheriff's office deputy started from the bottom of the drainage to offer his assistance.

"At dark, we had a total of 10 officers out there," said Cox. "They were not lost, they just couldn't get out and they hadn't planned to spend the night."

Cox noted at about 10 p.m. the Coast Guard helicopter showed up but was unable to reach the men because of wind conditions and steep terrain.

At about 2 a.m., Undersheriff Cox and three members of the Wind River Search and Rescue set up a rope system from the bottom of the drainage area and went in search of the missing officers.

"We were able to walk four of the deputies out about 4:15 a.m. on Sunday," Cox said.

Using the initial rope system set up by Cox and Wind River Search and Rescue, search and rescue teams from Clark County, Silver Star and Volcano Rescue headed into the drainage area about 4:30 a.m. Making additional rope systems, they were able to make contact with the remaining two groups of officers and stayed with them until daybreak, Cox said.

At 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, the second group of three officers were brought out of the drainage and by 1 p.m. two of the remaining three officers were out.

The task force officer who had suffered cramps had to be extracted with a litter. IV fluids were administered to him in the drainage area and once out he was taken to the hospital for observation.

"The operation ended at about 5 p.m.," said Cox.

And while the operation was a bit dicey at times, Cox happily pointed out that the sheriff's office had put an end to the 3,100 plant grow operation.

This was the second grow operation eradication by SCSO in the past couple weeks. Cox said it appears that both operations were related. The second site was located directly across the canyon from the previous site.

All total, the two marijuana growing sites had a street value of nearly $3.5 million.

Three arrests have been made in connection with the grow operations. Investigation is ongoing.


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