Bay Area Teens Busted With Pot Aboard Tour Buses

The tour buses are operated by a company based out of Costa Mesa

Police discovered several pounds of marijuana aboard five buses bound for Utah that was carrying 250 underage skiers from Northern California.

In addition to marijuana, pipes, bongs and rolling papers stored in jars, Tupperware, cigarette packs and plastic bags were found aboard the tour buses, operated by a company based out of Costa Mesa.

The drug paraphernalia was owned by 17 of the underage skiers.

Elko Police Chief Don Zumwalt said he was trying to contact officials with the tour operator, Summer Winter Action Tours. A website touts the trip, dubbed El Nino 2011, as a gathering of high school students from 67 schools in Los Angeles, Orange County, Temecula and Arizona, 27 schools in the San Diego area, and 40 schools in Northern California.

"I'm trying to hunt down who has ultimate responsibility," Zumwalt said.

Company officials didn't immediately respond to messages Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

KRNV said a company official called it almost impossible to control what people bring onto the bus.

As for the teenagers, Zumwalt said he decided to use the discovery of marijuana as a teaching moment instead of an enforcement headache. He offered a choice to the mostly teenage passengers from the Bay Area: They could spend their three-day ski and snowboard trip in juvenile detention in northeast Nevada, or they could turn over the illegal drugs voluntarily.

The kids gave up the pot.

"A lot of them thanked us. Some scowled," Zumwalt said during a telephone interview from his town of about 19,000 residents off Interstate 80. "You wonder, 'Did I make a difference here?'"

KRNV-TV in Reno first reported the contraband confiscation on late Tuesday. Zumwalt said it stemmed from a store clerk's report that passengers were smoking in the parking lot of an Elko travel plaza near the interstate. The police chief estimated the group had been traveling for eight hours, and was about four or five hours from Salt Lake City.

After police dogs sniffed marijuana in each baggage compartment of each bus, Zumwalt said he realized he had a problem.

"We had 250 kids. I don't know if anyone was over 21," he said. "I could have written a citation and arrested them all and confiscated the buses. But logistically it would have been a nightmare. Who belonged to what? Where would we put them?" 

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