Gunfight leads Fresno Co. Sheriff deputies to massive marijuana grow

FRESNO, Calif.

The shooting happened Wednesday afternoon in the area of Chestnut and Clayton, south of Fresno. Neighbors reported seeing gunfire exchanged between two cars as they raced down the roadway. When deputies arrived, they found a man inside a vehicle with gunshot wounds to his neck and chest.

"The victim of the gunshots actually crashed his vehicle, which was stolen," said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, in a news conference Thursday.

She said deputies also found a key piece of evidence which then led them to the illegal grow.

"When we discovered he needed medical attention and he wasn't very forthright in his information, we conducted an investigation and discovered marijuana in his vehicle," she said.

Not just any marijuana, freshly harvested pot, detectives believed, was stolen from an area not too far away.

"We watched this grow overnight and came out today to eradicate it with a state search warrant," she said.

Dozens of deputies moved in with machetes, Friday morning, and ripped out more than 25,000 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $160 million dollars.

"This is about the money, not about the medicine and that's what we're finding out more and more about this marijuana grows," said Mims.

Mims said the plants were discovered on five fields of farmland leased through people living in the Sacramento and Bay Areas.

"We believe not only were they aware of what was going on here, but they were involved in the actual cultivation," she added.

Tomatoes, squash and bitter melons appeared to be used to cover up the real cash crop. The crooks also installed security measures like trip wires, motion detector lights and alarms to alert armed men, sleeping in tents, to intruders on the property.

"Also as typical in these grows we found weapons. We found a shotgun, a rifle, as well as a handgun," said Mims.

A package containing $1,400 in cash was also found at the site.

"The envelope has a return address of Sioux City, Nebraska and the address is written to one in Florida," she said. "It was given to someone here to grow in Fresno County".

An indication, she said, the drug trafficking operation spans several states with the largest profit being made on the East Coast, but what she said concerns her the most, is the public's safety.

"It's not just about someone stealing someone's marijuana. He was in a stolen car, they were armed and who knows who could've been killed as the gunfight ensued going down the roadway," she said.

Eight homicides occurred last year related to marijuana grows and Sheriff Mims has a message for the criminals.

"You're not welcome in Fresno County to conduct this type of business. We're going to put a stop to it," she said.

Mims said one person identified with the grow is a known gang member from Fresno County. She also said one person was arrested in the case, but couldn't provide any other details. In the meantime, deputies are still looking for an unknown number of suspects involved in the shooting. If you have any information about the case, call the Fresno County Sheriff's Department.

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