A dawn raid on an illegal mountain marijuana grows northeast of Pioche resulted in the seizure of about 5,500 – 6,000 plants and the capture of one suspect.

County Sheriff Kerry Lee reported that on Friday, Sept. 22, the raid was made in the White Rock Wilderness area about 30 miles from Pioche to the east of Mt. Wilson in the Spring Valley area. About 35 officers from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Nevada Division of Investigation, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, the Nevada National Guard, and the Nevada Counter Drug Unit from Reno, converged on the area.

Lee said, “It was located about a mile off a dirt road, so we were able to get that close with our vehicles. Kudos to all those guys for a lot of hard work and a well-planned and coordinated operation.”

Officers from the Nevada Counter Drug Unit estimated the street value of the marijuana was about $17 million.

Lee said, “We had a National Guard helicopter assisting for medical and communication purposes.”

No shots were fired. All of the suspects fled on foot, and after a short pursuit, officers were able to capture one suspect, but three others managed to escape. However, two later surrendered Friday night to private citizens without incident. On Saturday night, the other suspect surrendered. All three were found near the Spring Valley ranger station.

Juan Cruz-Hernandez, 24, of Santa Maria, California, was the man captured at the grow site and is being held at the Lincoln County Detention Center, awaiting an appearance in Meadow Valley Justice Court.

Lee said the cold, wet, snowy weather was the reason the other suspects later turned themselves in. “It was really cold at night. There were about three inches of snow on the ground in the area when we were searching for them.” Nighttime temperatures were near or below freezing.

He said the third suspect was suffering from hypothermia when he surrendered to campers Saturday night at Spring Valley State Park.

“This man,” Lee said, “actually called in on his cell phone asking to be picked up. We were trying to find him that night with officers from State Parks, Fish and Game, and Nevada Department of Fish and Wildlife when we were notified he was being held at gunpoint at a campsite in Spring Valley State Park. I don’t think the campers knew he was a fugitive from a marijuana raid, [they were] just worried that he walked into their camp late at night. Kind of scared them.”

However, Lee said, “Because we did not have enough probable cause and were not able to positively identify these three suspects, believed to also be California residents, as actually having been those who ran from the marijuana site, we could only hold them after they were photographed, fingerprinted, and DNA taken, until they were released to family members. But, we are seeking to collect additional evidence to be able to issue arrest warrants for each of them.”

At the grow site, officers found camping equipment, tents, sleeping bags, a small kitchen, food supplies, etc., and Lee thinks it had been in operation for two or three months.

“Most of the plants had been harvested already and were in the process of being dried and packaged. We did not find any weapons, though, like we have found in some other locations.”

Lee said a tip from hunters a few weeks ago alerted officers to the existence of the site. “With the help of several agencies, we have been investigating this place, doing both aerial and ground surveillance to confirm its location, and creating a plan for the raid.”

This is the second time a raid on a marijuana grows has captured a suspect on site. About five years ago, a man was captured on a raid in the Oak

Springs area, but Lee could not remember the date.

On April 1, 2015, 35-year old Teodoro Avalos-Linares of Menifee, California, was arrested on suspicion of seeking to get a new growth started in an area also east of Mt. Wilson, where a previous grow had been used some years before.

Lee said those who operate these illegal mountain grows “have gotten more sophisticated in hiding them and it is due to tips from the public, hunters, hikers, ATV riders, bow hunters, etc., that we rely on to give us this information. They are our eyes and ears out in the woods. Anytime we get a tip, we follow up immediately because we want to be able to respond.”

This is the first mountain grow that has been found in Lincoln County in a while, Lee noted, but there may be others. “We can’t just dismiss the whole idea, although the season is just about over.”