The Humboldt County Drug Task Force called in the bomb squad Tuesday, Dec. 4 at a marijuana grow behind the former Eel River Sawmill, north of Rio Dell, after grenades - later found to be inert - were discovered at the scene.
Three people were arrested when the Drug Task Force raided what was previously the sawmill’s office building at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to Lt. Wayne Hanson. Nathan Titchener and Beth Hendry, both 28, and Ben Titchener, 21, were arrested at the scene. Nathan Titchener rented the building, Hanson said.
The sawmill - which employed as many as 450 residents in the 1980s - has not been operable for several years. One wing of the former office building, both upstairs and down, had been converted into a large-scale indoor marijuana grow. Hanson said 576 plants, military-grade body armor, two grenades, six firearms, including an assault rifle and handguns, several high capacity magazines, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and $5,800 in cash were recovered at the scene. "We don’t think the landowner is connected at all," Hanson said.
The task force was tipped off by "numerous complaints" that the building could be an indoor growing operation, Hanson said. According to PG&E records, the building had been using 14,000 kilowatts of energy per month. A normal house uses about 600, Hanson said. The task force also looked for other telltale signs of a marijuana grow before they obtained a search warrant: the windows were covered over, and there were "personal protection dogs" out front in a small fenced-in area, Hanson said.
The office, which is inside Rio Dell’s city limits, was inspected and condemned Tuesday morning after it was deemed to be a hazard, said city manager Jim Stretch.
Hanson said the task force was continuing an investigation into several other residences that may be connected to the suspects. Agents conducted a search at another residence tied to the suspects later in the day, Hanson said, but did not turn up anything.
The three suspects were arrested on suspicion of a number of charges, including cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sale, and possession of possible explosive devices. Hendry was released on her own recognizance due to overcrowding in the women’s section of the Humboldt County jail, Hanson said.
The Fortuna Police Department and the Humboldt County sheriff’s office also aided in the search.
PHOTO BY JOSÉ QUEZADA/FOR THE TIMES-STANDARD
A search warrant was served at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday morning by the Humboldt County Sheriff, Humboldt County Drug Task Force and Fortuna Police Departments, implementing a large cultivation drug bust in the historical office of the Fortuna Mill A facility of the now closed Eel River Sawmills, a 60-acre facility located on the east side of U.S. Highway 101, just north of the city of Rio Dell.