A Colorado resident was arrested in Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park on suspicion of stealing 139 pounds of petrified wood.
Authorities in the park were tipped off by a visitor who saw a man putting pieces of petrified wood in a blue pickup truck. Jeremy Wayne Bayes of Crestone was then contacted at Tiponi Point by a park ranger who reported seeing petrified wood and other rocks in plain view inside the truck's cab, court records state.
Brad Traver, park superintendent, says theft of the national palaeoxylogical treasure is the largest law-enforcement problem at the park, but that these days, "We try not to make a big deal of it."
Last year, park officials told various media sources that little evidence existed for the long-repeated factoid that visitors steal a ton of the 200-million-year-old wood fossils each month. Detailed photos taken of the park were compared with photos from decades ago, revealing that little has changed.
Many visitors certainly do cart off shards or bigger pieces from the large park, which includes 52,000 acres of remote, hard-to-patrol wilderness. But Traver has led a push to make visitors feel less like suspects. He had a scene of a person being arrested for stealing wood cut out of an orientation video for visitors, opened up more areas of the park, and reduced invasive vehicle searches.
In any case, most people caught with bits of petrified wood face a fine of about $300 instead of an arrest.
Saturday's alleged theft was unusual, Traver says. One of the petrified-wood pieces in Bayes' truck weighed 80 pounds alone. After the ranger spotted the petrified wood in the Bayes' vehicle, he admitted he had even more inside.
A search of the truck also turned up 1.5 grams of marijuana, a glass pipe, and a credit card belonging to someone named Shirley Jones. Bayes "knew he had the card and stated to me 'she is going to be pissed when she finds out I have it,'" the federal court records state. Officials were unable to contact the owner of the card.
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Bayes was charged with possessing or removing fossilized specimens, possession of a controlled substance, and unlawful possession with "intent to deprive" a person of property.
Records show that Bayes was jailed for three days before his release at a detention hearing Tuesday. He promised to appear on February 2 at the federal courthouse in Flagstaff. During the detention hearing, he and the federal public defender assigned to him filed a motion to assert Bayes' Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer present for all interactions with the government.
Bayes could not be reached; a message left with his lawyer wasn't immediately returned.