ASHVILLE, Ohio — Timothy Sturgis kept a loaded gun in every room of his Pickaway County house: shotguns, rifles, a revolver and a .22-caliber handgun.
Each of the 10 guns that authorities seized from the property yesterday was propped next to a window. A bow and arrows hung on the enclosed back porch.
A German shepherd guarded the 21 acres surrounding the well-hidden, dilapidated farmhouse, and a Doberman pinscher kept watch from within.
An alarm at the base of the long, overgrown driveway was triggered when someone approached.
Sturgis was a man, authorities said, who clearly didn’t want to be bothered. And the reason for his elaborate measures appeared to be protecting his marijuana operation. He died doing so.
Sturgis, 42, shot himself on Tuesday night after a two-hour standoff with authorities in the woods and thick, 14-foot-high weeds and brush behind the house at 15240 Lockbourne Eastern Rd. in Ashville. He was pronounced dead at 8:56 p.m.
No authorities involved could recall a similarly deadly ending in the years since the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation teamed up with local law enforcement to scour rural Ohio for marijuana-growing operations.
But a Ross County man was wounded in July when he exchanged gunfire with deputies after authorities found marijuana on his property in the same manner: State helicopters flew over his fields to look for the pot, and local law enforcement followed the spotter’s direction and swooped in from the ground. That man survived.
Still, the two incidents have put the spotlight on the program, said Dave Posten, the special-agent supervisor in charge of the BCI’s Marijuana Eradication and Clandestine Lab Unit.
“No one likes the violence. We wish it didn’t have to be that way,” Posten said. “But when people say ‘Was this little bit of marijuana worth this man’s life?’ it frustrates me. This isn’t ever about marijuana. It’s about someone’s choices.”
The BCI, part of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, gets about $500,000 in federal grants each year to cover its marijuana program. In this growing season, which generally runs into early October, state agents have seized 20,745 plants. That’s down considerably from the peak in 2010, when 105,121 plants were taken.
Last year, of the $475,313 that the state spent on its marijuana hunt, about $373,000 paid for the helicopters and fuel.
Tuesday was to be the only day this summer that BCI agents were to fly over Pickaway County and work with county deputy sheriffs on the ground. Sheriff Robert Radcliff said it had been a productive day, with more than 600 plants seized, before things quickly went south on Sturgis’ land.
Radcliff told the story this way: The spotter in the helicopter circling overhead spied the marijuana plants in the field.
As three detectives from the sheriff’s office and from the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force approached on foot, the spotter saw a man in dark clothing duck off a path and into the woods. The detectives made it a few hundred yards down the path into the woods before Sturgis popped out, turned an AK-47 assault rifle toward his head and said he was going to kill himself.
That kick-started the standoff.
It was a dangerous situation, Radcliff said, because of the location and timing: dense, overgrown brush, with darkness quickly approaching.
“It was difficult to know where everyone was, and it was difficult to not alert him to our positions because of the noise made in the brush as we tried to find our way in.”
Sturgis, who lived alone, called a friend from the woods, Radcliff said. That man called Sturgis’ parents, who live in Lake County in northeastern Ohio. Hostage negotiators called in from the Franklin County sheriff’s office talked to the parents by phone to try to get information that could help end the situation peacefully, Radcliff said.
At 8:17 p.m., however, the deputies and detectives who were huddled on the property heard a single shot, and Sturgis was dead.
His family could not be reached yesterday, but authorities said they’d had no trouble with Sturgis in the past; they said it appears that he was an out-of-work salesman.
Returning to the property yesterday with a search warrant, Pickaway County authorities uncovered seven plants in a field, 18 in the basement, and bags and bottles of processed pot. The total value is about $25,000, Radcliff said.
“Not enough worth dying over,” he said. “It’s beyond me … why anybody would take their own life in a situation like this. It’s marijuana, yes, and it’s illegal in Ohio. That’s why we’re out here. But we’ve seen much bigger operations. It’s unfortunate.”
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