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Evidence from illegal breach site is missing

A man walks near the Lake Earl breach site. The lake was illegally drained two weeks ago and investigations into the incident are under way. (Stephen M. Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).
A man walks near the Lake Earl breach site. The lake was illegally drained two weeks ago and investigations into the incident are under way. (Stephen M. Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).

By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

Evidence collected from Lake Earl after it was illegally breached two weeks ago, is now missing.

Beer and liquor bottles left at the scene of the crime in the early hours of March 29 were collected by Del Norte County employees to help federal and state investigators.

"They (beer and liquor bottles) were put in a safe place that day ... They are now missing and there are a limited number of people that had access to it," said Ernie Perry, head of the Del Norte County Community Development Department.

When asked if a county employee is suspected, Perry said he would not confirm or deny it, adding that such a personnel issue cannot be discussed publicly.

The federal and state agencies with jurisdiction and ownership of the Lake Earl Wildlife Area indicated yesterday an investigation of the crime is in progress.

"Our special agent said we're looking into it and we have asked California Fish and Game to look into it," said Pat Folk of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Internal Affairs office.

Breaching Lake Earl, a coastal lagoon, without permission is considered a violation of several state and federal laws.

Located a few miles north of Crescent City, Lake Earl had risen to near record levels the last week in March, pushing water onto nearby roads, yards and pastures.

Flooded citizens there expressed frustration with the county, state Fish and Game and the Army Corps of Engineers for not relieving the problem.

County officials did not get permission from the Army Corps to drain the lake until 6:30 p.m., Friday March 28.

The operation was then planned for 7 a.m. the next day. When county workers arrived to do the job, however, they found the sandbar separating the lake from the ocean was already trenched and water was already draining out into the sea.

An aerial photograph of the lagoon taken March 27, two days before it was trenched, showed that illegal efforts to breach may have begun then.

The photograph, taken at the request of the county, showed a straight line in the sand stretching only half the width the sandbar.

It wasn't until the morning of March 29, however, that the bottles were found.

At no point before or after the crime has the Del Norte County Sheriff's Department become involved in the investigation or evidence collecting.

Sheriff Dean Wilson was unavailable to comment on the issue yesterday.

Perry said the Sheriff's Department was not involved because the laws that were violated were federal.

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