Santa Barbara County- The silver sands of San Onofre Beach, the westernmost limit of Gaviota State Park adjacent to U.S. 101, make for an idyllic early morning stroll. The paths leading down to the beach are frequented by surfers and dog walkers…and the occasional drug smuggler.
According to Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover, it was at approximately 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 29th when a local area resident out walking his dog spotted “what appeared to be a panga boat on the beach below.” The presence of a vessel type notorious as the illegal drug transport system of choice used by a recent rash of drug traffickers, alerted the dog-walker to potentially criminal activity; a 911 call soon brought deputies from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, California State Parks deputies, SBSD’s Air Support helicopter, and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to the area.
Deputies immediately searched the twin-engine 30’ boat resting on the sands of the beach and discovered a bale of marijuana inside, along with fuel barrels. Littering the nearby area were additional fuel barrels, another bale of marijuana, and personal items hastily left behind by the boat’s occupants. An aerial search of the area quickly located Francisco Soltero, 32, and James Pierce, 38, both residents of Riverside County, hiding nearby.
The ensuing on-scene investigation led to the arrests of both men, who were summarily transported to Santa Barbara County Jail for booking on charges of being under the influence of a controlled substance, and the possession, transportation, and sales of marijuana.
Photos: Courtesy Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, Santa Barbara County Jail Booking