STEVENSON, Wash. (KOIN) — Investigators are calling it the biggest poaching ring they’ve ever seen in the Northwest, as more than 100 bears, cougars, bobcats, deer and elk were slaughtered.
Now a number of men are facing close to 200 criminal charges in Skamania County, and an investigation in Oregon continues.
Photo gallery at the bottom of the story.
Warning: Graphic Images
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has spent hundreds of hours on this case that started small but quickly ballooned into what it is after investigators came across a stockpile of evidence via electronic media.
“My first reaction is I almost vomited,” said Mike Cenci, the deputy chief of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Police. “It made me sick to my stomach.”
The Fish & Wildlife Police said slaughterings like those captured by the suspects’ cell phone go back at least a couple years, and most of them are documented in extensive reports.
Investigators were able to file these reports thanks to the video documentation and other digital evidence — like text messages, GPS tracking by pinging the suspects’ cell phones and photos the suspects took.
The geo-tracking technology led them to sites where they found bones, rotting carcasses, bullet shells and other evidence beyond what they could see in the video and picture files.
“This particular violation really lays down the foundation that it was people killing animals to kill animals,” said Capt. Jeff Wickersham with the WDFW Police. “There was really no other motive behind it other than these individuals wanted to kill.”The suspects
Erik Martin and William Haynes, each 23, appeared in court Thursday along with Brian Tretiak, 31, Eddie Dills, 57, and 30-year-old Joseph Dills all face numerous counts.
Police said the bulk of the evidence came from Martin’s and Haynes’ cell phones.
“I mean, to archive your escapades like that, you’ve got to feel pretty free-wheeling,” Cenci told KOIN 6 News. “You’ve got to feel like the chances of getting caught are like winning the lotto.”
Sgt. Brad Rhoden with the WDFW Police said, “We can see what they did. We know where they did it. We know how they did it. We always want to know why. And sometimes it’s that why we’ll never get to.”
Early in 2017, police moved in and seized evidence, including 84 packages of various game meat in Haynes’ freezer.
They also found 3 frozen bobcats they said were killed by Tretiak.
Tretiak pleaded not guilty on 2 counts in Skamania County Court Thursday.
Martin faces 28 charges. The elder Dills faces 26 counts, while the younger Dills is charged with 61 offenses.
But Haynes leads all the suspects with 64 separate charges.‘I don’t think I’ll ever understand it’
“I mean, almost 100 animals?” Cenci said. “Unbridled poaching, running hounds through forested areas in broad daylight that are closed.”
“In my career,” Wickesham said, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
But the public is seeing it now partly because some of the suspects, for whatever reason, felt compelled to record their big game, back country exploits.
“This I don’t understand and I don’t think I’ll ever understand it,” Rhoden said. “I dont’ think they’ll be able to explain that.”
The investigation continues and evidence shows they suspects spent time in Oregon. But investigators said their relatively small staff may never have cracked this case if they didn’t get the pictures and the videos.