Probation in assault; officials say ringleader may still be at large |

Probation in assault; officials say ringleader may still be at large

The orchestrator of a marijuana-related kidnapping and assault in the Yuba and Nevada county foothills in early 2014 may still be at large, officials said Monday.

Gerry Eugene Drake was once labeled by prosecutors as the ringleader and faced life in prison for a violent attack on Arnold Brinker in February 2014. On Monday, Drake was sentenced to three years probation by Judge Benjamin Wirtschafter in Yuba County Superior Court.

After the sentencing, Yuba County Deputy District Attorney Mike Byrne said he might have been wrong about who was behind the attack, but declined to provide additional information, citing a pending investigation.

Drake, who also known as “Hawkeye” and by the alias Christopher Lee Williamson, pleaded no contest in May to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, burglary of an occupied residence, attempted robbery and two counts of false imprisonment, with a potential sentence of 11 years in prison. At that time, his defense attorney said the prosecution’s case was weak because of credibility issues with the victims.

Brinker testified in the case a year ago. He was a gardener who took care of marijuana plants for Drake, he said, and they were friends for years until harvest season, when allegations of stolen plants began circulating.

On the night of the attack, he said, Justin Lombardo lured him and his fiancée out of bed with an invitation to a party. He was instead taken to John Birge’s house and beaten, dragged through gravel with his wrists duct taped and zip tied.

“I tried to run,” he testified. “I got the crap beat out of me.”

After twice being knocked unconscious and moved between various properties, he begged Drake to let him go and promised he would get him money.

Drake let Brinker clean himself up and bought him a bus ticket to go back to Pennsylvania. Instead, Brinker went to the hospital.

John Birge testified he witnessed his son, Derik Birge, and Lombardo bring Brinker to his home and beat him. Drake showed up, and Birge saw him “pop” Brinker in the mouth when Brinker said “the feds” were going to “go after him.”

Birge said he never engaged in the fight, except to pull his son off Brinker, and he never had a gun. Brinker, however, testified John Birge hit him and had a 12-gauge shotgun.

Lombardo and Derik Birge took advantage of a plea deal early in the case to receive probation. Byrne said at that time that he agreed to the plea deal because Drake was the leader. Now, multiple agencies are looking into another person who was involved.

“We know a name and we’re investigating it,” Byrne said.

In response to Drake’s plea deal for probation, Brinker said, “I have to deal with PTSD because of this. I will never be the same. …” according to a probation report.

“They think they can commit a crime and then be a stool pigeon, that’s not cool,” he said.

The victim also said he doesn’t feel safe.

“Derik’s family is still stalking my fiancé and I,” he said.

In Drake’s pre-sentencing report, he said he was called to the scene by John Birge and then tried to help Brinker when he saw what was happening.

“I saved a man and I got persecuted,” Drake said.

In addition to probation, Drake was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution to refund victim relocation costs, as well as $120 for the hotel expenses while the victims testified in the preliminary hearing.

He was ordered to seek employment, but informed the court he is awaiting certification for a job in prison teaching yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques.

He has prior felony strikes out of two other states and is currently awaiting extradition to Missouri.

Monica Vaughan is a reporter for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat; she can be reached at 749-4783 and on Twitter @MonicaLVaughan.

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