Pot bust turns up 185 plants
The faded wooden sign at the Historic Five Mile House boasts of fine dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Long since shuttered, the former Harmony Ridge restaurant emanated a different aroma Wednesday.
Marijuana – 185 plants of varying heights – allegedly was found growing inside Tuesday night. There were also lamps, irrigation tubes, carbon dioxide tanks, two rifles and a handgun, according to the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, which arrested one man and is looking for at least one more.
The marijuana’s pungency was detectable from across Highway 20, where Margee Jamros looked on in amazement as narcotics agents piled up plants near the highway.
“You know, I think it must have bad karma,” she said of the building. “Bad things have happened to it ever since the original owner sold it.”
Deputies happened upon the garden after responding to a gunfire complaint about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Discussions with neighbors who heard shots led officers to the landmark, and the tenant, 40-year-old Anthony Mercer, didn’t answer the door, Sgt. Steve Mason said.
Aware that a 7-year-old boy was inside, the deputies entered uninvited after peering through a second-floor window and seeing a person lying down.
“So, we didn’t know what we had inside,” Undersheriff John Trauner said. The officers “didn’t know if the person was injured or asleep or something, so they made entry.”
Then they smelled marijuana, and narcotics agents showed up with a search warrant.
Mercer was booked into Wayne Brown Correctional Facility on suspicion of marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale and illegal firearm possession. A correctional officer said Wednesday night Mercer posted $10,000 bail.
Agents also searched a Banner Mountain house as part of the investigation, but no one was there and the search turned up one plant, Trauner said.
It’s unclear how long the alleged operation had been in place, or even how much longer it could have gone undetected, given that the front windows were boarded. There was evidence of at least one harvest, according to Mason, who said plant heights ranged from 4 inches to 5 feet.
“If people stop to use the (pay) telephone, I’d assume sooner or later someone would have smelled it,” he said.
Jamros and John Hensley, who owns a realty office across the highway, hadn’t noticed anything unusual recently. They were encouraged by new landscaping on the lot and had heard rumors of it becoming a steak house and blues club.
“Oh, isn’t this going to be great. Look at what they’re doing,” Jamros recalled thinking.
Hensley said the building was first a Wells Fargo depot for the pony express in the 1850s. Mail carriers would swap horses there before pressing toward Truckee, he said.
Last June, Barbara Benuzzi sold the building to a Concord man whose son was involved in the deal, she said. She had owned it at least four times since she and her late husband, Fred, first bought it in 1964.
It was last a dinner house in 1987, she said, adding that she’s never heard of Wells Fargo being involved. During winters long ago, mail carriers on skis arrived from Nevada City, rested, and then continued to the town of Washington.
“It’s a wonderful business spot,” she said. “It was a good business when it was run right.”
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