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By New Times
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Hand escorted the bikers to the Phantom Ranch station, where she took them inside one by one and questioned them--name, social security number, "you do know the park's closed, don't you?", etc. The bikers were still smiling and joking around, guessing they would just be issued citations and allowed to continue their ride. Then Hand announced she and another ranger were going to look through their packs.
The search yielded 18 grams of marijuana, 15 grams of hallucinogenic mushrooms and assorted paraphernalia, scattered among four of the five's packs and bike bags (only Forest was clean). Unbeknown to the busted bikers, Hand had also run their names through a national law enforcement database to check for outstanding warrants, and two of them were red-flagged (both warrants later turned out to be cases of mistaken identity).
Herring had been following these events via radio from the ranger headquarters on the South Rim. "At that point, she was down there with five individuals who were in the park illegally, who were exhibiting a disrespectful attitude toward the park and the ranger, and who were in possession of controlled substances. We also thought two of them had outstanding arrest warrants. Based on these factors, we decided she needed immediate back-up."
Enter the helicopter--a Park Service Bell 206 carrying, the bikers say, eight to ten heavily armed rangers in orange jumpsuits and bright red bulletproof vests. Herring says that's "a bunch of bullshit." He says it was only him, one other ranger and the pilot, wearing standard sidearms. The orange jumpsuits are standard for helicopter flights, he says. Herring said he and the other ranger were wearing bulletproof vests, ". . . but they were under our uniforms. And they weren't big flak jackets or anything. I doubt they were really noticeable."
Either way, both sides agree on what happened once the copter landed on the helipad at Phantom Ranch--the bikers were officially placed under arrest, separated to different corners of two nearby volleyball courts, handcuffed and put in leg irons.
"There were some sad faces once we got there," Herring says. "I think they realized the situation was a little more serious than they had bargained for."
Rama and Wheeze were the first two loaded onto the copter. Rama claims one of the rangers told him as it took off, "The pilot's safety is our primary concern. Don't make any sudden movements. We'll shoot you if we have to." Long Tall and Forest were next. The final rider, Dangerous Dave, had to be lifted to the copter in a rescue basket because the sun had set and Park Service regulations prohibit copter landings below the rim once the sun is down.
The ride up, all five bikers say, was outstanding. "I was disappointed at first because I've never touched the water of the Colorado, and I was really looking forward to that," says Forest. "But then they flew us over it, so I didn't feel so bad."
"The copter ride was certainly as spectacular as the descent on bikes," says Rama. "It was once in a lifetime. I mean, a sunset ride below the rim. You can't even buy that [a 1986 law prohibits commercial flights inside the Grand Canyon]."
The biker pauses. "But then, I guess we did."
Topside, the prisoners were taken by car to the ranger station on the South Rim, booked and put in a holding cell, still shackled. On the way, they heard a bulletin come over the CB that the park would reopen to the public the next day. "We got in just under the wire," says Wheeze.
Once they were all in the cell, Dave started to perform a chiropractic adjustment on Forest. The rangers intervened. "They said, 'Excuse me, I don't know what you're doing, but stop touching him please.'" While the bikers stewed, one of the rangers passing the cell jokingly referred to them as "The Sedona 5."
Not bad, the bikers thought.
Wheeze had brought along a fat cash roll, "just in case," and he had enough to bail out himself and Forest (the only one without drug charges). The other three sat in the cell for two hours before the rangers released them on their own recognizance. "They said they couldn't keep us there overnight," says Rama, "and they didn't want to haul us to Flagstaff."
Before they left for home, the five asked about their bikes, and the rangers said they were still down at Phantom Ranch. "I don't see why they had to make us dump our bikes and go in the copter," says Rama. "I mean, I appreciated the ride, but it seems like if they wanted to punish us, it would have been better to make us ride up and then arrest us. Or, better yet, why not take the front wheel off each of our bikes and say, 'Okay, see you guys at the top!' Now that would have harshed us."
Ten days later, the Sedona 5 appeared before magistrate Verkamp to accept a plea bargain offered by Park Service law enforcement specialist Dave Swickard, the government prosecutor in the case. They all pleaded guilty to violating a park closure, bicycling in a prohibited area and, where appropriate, misdemeanor marijuana possession. The Park Service dropped the mushrooms and paraphernalia charges. Each biker was ordered to pay $244 restitution for the helicopter flights (which Herring says cost exactly $1,220) and given a $250 suspended fine for the criminal offenses. They also had to forfeit their bikes, which Rama estimated were worth a total of $4,000. Herring says the bicycles ". . . are now in the ranger cache. We let the Boy Scouts ride them on perimeter patrols sometimes."