BARNEY TOP, Garfield County — Officials have destroyed a marijuana growing operation worth more than $400,000 and arrested four people suspected of growing the plants.
A bowhunter spotted three men and one woman near the summit of Barney Top while one of them was trying to make a call from a cell phone Sunday evening. The hunter contacted the Garfield County Sheriff's office and Drug Enforcement Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials converged on the scene along with a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter Monday morning and apprehended the people at the site. Police believe they are from Mexico.
Two of those arrested, 31-year-old Monica Saldivar and 45-year-old Eleno Angula, attempted to flee when authorities approached but were quickly taken into custody. The other two, Jesus Ruiz Sepulveda, 51, and 29-year-old Emiliano Arellano, were intoxicated at the time and unable to flee.
The four, all Mexican nationals, were not at the grow site. Officials say they had been using methamphetamine drugs and drinking alcohol when caught. They had a .25 caliber automatic pistol at the site where they were arrested.
Officials searched for the grow site for two days until it was finally located just east of Barney Top. It was a two and a half hour "treacherous hike through rough terrain," Garfield County Sheriff's office spokeswoman Becki Bronson said.
The grow site had 413 plants — each worth about $1,000 — making the whole operation worth $413,000.
Bronson said the grow was small compared to other operations found in Garfield County but was carefully set up to avoid detection.
Sheriff Danny Perkins said he was grateful to the hunter for calling law enforcement with information.
"He handled it perfectly. He spotted someone that seemed out of place. He didn't confront the individual but quickly left the scene and then immediately after called the Sheriff's office," Perkins said. "This is how we would like everyone to handle these kind of sightings."
Officials are concerned that the growers possesed a weapon and are asking hunters to be careful and call authorities if they see anything suspicious.