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Bust Along Gaviota Coast Results in 18 Arrests, Seizure of 3,000 Pounds of Marijuana

Panga boat also found along the coastline during surveillance operation at Arroyo Quemada

Panga boat on the coastline Click to view larger
A panga boat was discovered early Saturday along the Gaviota Coast. Narcotics detectives arrested 18 people and seized some 3,000 pounds of marijuana, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

Narcotics detectives arrested 18 people and seized some 3,000 pounds of marijuana early Saturday along the Gaviota Coast, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department.

At about 1 a.m., investigators began a surveillance operation in the area of Arroyo Quemada, west of Refugio State Beach, an area popular with drug smugglers from Mexico who use panga-style boats, said Kelly Hoover, a sheriff's spokeswoman.

At approximately 4:45 a.m., detectives observed a truck in the area, and tailed it southbound on Highway 101.

The truck exited at Dos Pueblos Canyon Road and subsequently stopped approximately a half mile later, Hoover said. Prior to making contact with the vehicle, deputies observed a Hispanic male exiting the vehicle and fleeing into a nearby creekbed.

"After checking for any additional occupants, detectives observed more than a dozen bales of marijuana consistent with those smuggled into the United States by Mexican drug trafficking organizations in the rear cargo area of the truck and within the passenger compartment," Hoover said.

Additional surveillance units observed three other vehicles entering and leaving the Arroyo Quemada Lane area at high rates of speed.

"The vehicles were subsequently stopped and an additional van was discovered loaded with several dozen additional bales of marijuana," Hoover said. "The other two associated vehicles were stopped, revealing multiple subjects who smelled of fuel and were covered in sand and water."

Bales of marijuana in a van. Click to view larger
Bales of marijuana smuggled from Mexico fill a van discovered early Saturday along the Gaviota Coast. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

A subsequent search of the coastline immediately adjacent to where all four vehicles were seen revealed a large panga-style boat consistent with marijuana smuggling, Hoover said.

In total, 18 males were arrested, and more than 120 bales of marijuana were seized, weighing in at more than 3,000 pounds.

The incident remained under investigation, and the identities of those arrested were not being released, Hoover said.

Sheriff’s Narcotics Detectives were assisted in responding to the incident by personel from the sheriff’s Special Enforcement Team, patrol deputies, the California Highway Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations. 

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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