From the San Augustine Sheriff’s Office
SAN AUGUSTINE COUNTY, Texas - Last Wednesday, July 29th, Federal, State and local law enforcement officers combined their efforts to take down a marijuana growing operation that was located on National Forest land off of Forest Service Road 303 in southern in San Augustine County.
San Augustine County Sheriff Robert Cartwright said the marijuana grow site had been under investigation before the early morning raid last Wednesday morning. Sheriff Cartwright said a DEA Special Response Team went into the site before daylight Wednesday morning to attempt to arrest two suspects who have been living at the grow site and taking care of the plants. The SRT team secured the site but the two Hispanic male suspects fled the site on foot into the thick wooded area.
Sheriff Cartwright said teams from the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) dog teams had been staged in the area in case they were needed to track any suspects. The TDC dog teams began tracking the suspects just before daylight last Wednesday morning. They tracked mainly through the Bannister Wildlife Management Area headed in a northerly direction, basically running parallel with FM 705. The dogs tracked the suspect north until he got near SH 103. The suspect is believed to have crossed SH 147 near Forest Service Road (FSR) 300, still heading west. The suspect continued heading west and crossed over FSR 301 where a 3 set of TDC dogs were released on the track. The dogs lost the suspects track near Johnson Creek, located near the intersection of SH 103 and FM 1277, about 8 hours after they began the search.
A Hispanic male matching the description of the second suspect was spotted by homeowners lat Thursday afternoon on CR 319, about 2 miles north of Broaddus High School. Sheriff Cartwright called in TDC tracking teams and a fixed wing plane from DPS that was equipped with thermal cameras. Federal, State and local officers tried to set up a perimeter around where the suspect was spotted until the TDC tracking teams arrived on location but the dogs were never able to pick up the trail of the suspect and the plane was not able to locate the suspect in the heavily forested area using the thermal camera. The search was abandoned on Friday morning after all leads were exhausted.
On Thursday officers from US Forest Service, DEA and San Augustine Sheriff's Office inventoried items at the grow site, pulled up the marijuana plants and began cleaning up trash at the grow site. Sheriff Cartwright said officers pulled up 7,922 "rootballs" which can contained an average of three plants per rootball for an estimated total of over 23,000 plants. The marijuana plants were airlifted out of the remote site by helicopter and taken to a secure site nearby where they were buried. The destruction of the plants was under the supervision of the US Forest Service, DEA and Sheriff Cartwright.
Law enforcement officers are still combing through evidence left at the grow site by the suspects and will continue to investigate the case if additional leads are obtained.