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Local News

Campers Stumble on $26 Million in Marijuana Plants

Pair arrested after chasing campers from remote Los Padres National Forest site

Two campers discovered what authorities say amounts to $26 million worth of marijuana plants growing in a remote area of Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars said Monday. The two adults, who had been camping in the Aliso Park area west of New Cuyama, stumbled upon an active marijuana garden Friday and were approached by two Hispanic men who were tending it, Sugars said in a statement.

The men attempted to converse with the campers, but were unable to bridge the language barrier, and they asked the campers to stay put until their English-speaking supervisor could arrive. The campers became fearful, Sugars said, and left the area. While driving down the dirt road, they passed a black pickup truck whose driver stopped, got out and waved for them to stop. They ignored the gestures and continued down the road, after which the driver returned to the truck and began chasing them, coming perilously close to the campers’ vehicle, Sugars said.

The campers were able to call authorities when they reached a paved road and the Sheriff’s Department issued a report. A Taft police officer discovered the truck and stopped it. Javier Barragan, 40, of Maywood, and Jose Lopez, 37, of Paramount, were taken into custody and a search of their vehicle revealed five high-powered rifles with scopes and numerous rounds of ammunition. The two men in the vehicle were identified by the campers as the pursuers who had chased them down the mountain. Barragan and Lopez were booked into the Santa Maria jail for marijuana cultivation and may face additional charges of false imprisonment and weapons possession. Their bail has been set at $50,000.

Sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Forest Service officers found and eradicated the 13,300 marijuana plants at the garden, estimating the street value at more than $26 million.

Sugars cautioned hikers, campers and hunters that marijuana gardens are located in remote areas of the forest and are often tended by Mexican nationals, who may be armed. Suspicious activity should be reported to the Sheriff’s Department or forest service.

Click here for photos of the suspects and confiscated firearms.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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