ELKO, Nevada (CBS SF / AP) — A police chief in northern Nevada said Thursday he decided to use the discovery of marijuana on five Utah-bound buses carrying 250 underage skiers from Northern California as a teaching moment instead of an enforcement headache.

Elko Police Chief Don Zumwalt said 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.

KCBS’ Melissa Culross Reports:

“You wonder, `Did I make a difference here?'” Video showed the haul included pipes, bongs and rolling papers stored in jars, Tupperware, cigarette packs and plastic bags. Zumwalt said it hadn’t been weighed, but he guessed the marijuana totaled several pounds.

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?”

The juvenile detention facility in Elko has 20 beds. “Las Vegas or Reno police might have done things differently,” Zumwalt said. “But this is how we solved the dilemma. Rather than seize the buses and obtain search warrants, we said, `Get all the stuff off the buses.'”

“No one was under the influence. No one was injured. I gave each bus a fatherly talk about skiing sober. I told them to be safe. I didn’t want them skiing stoned out of their minds or dying of a drug overdose.”

Zumwalt said he was trying to contact officials with the Costa Mesa-based 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.

A company official called it almost impossible to control what people bring onto the bus.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (14)
  1. Kizzy says:

    Privilege is alive and well…would those students been allowed to continue on their trip….no arrest…no jail…no chaperones….had they come from the inner-city or from a different class? Shame….shame

    1. Ryan says:

      agreed!!! I have already sent an email to the chief of police in Elko about that exact thing

    2. izzy skizzy says:

      It has nothing to do about if they come from the inner-city, maybe the fact that it was nor cal, or also the fact that they are teens growing up. I’m sure it scared enough of them but then again teens will do what they want to do.

  2. Roger Craig says:

    Should have locked them up and threw away the key. Justice is only for the rich and privileged in this country. Any one else doing that in Nevada would have been locked up for years.
    And for the law enforcement officers there they are a bunch of Idiots….

    1. KP says:

      I’m very glad he handled it the way he did. I would have been one of 250 parents driving 10-12 hours to pick him up. Chief had a nightmare on his hands- who brought what, no room to keep all those kids, warrants. I didn’t know Nevada locks up people for a small amount per person of pot!!! I will be checking bags on the next riop -if there is a next trip. I don’t know if my child brought anything with him. So we’ll have a long talk when he gets back!!!

  3. tn says:

    Let’s see, “No one was under the influence,” the Police Chief said and shortly before, a store clerk witnessed the kids smoking in the parking lot. Either, the kids got ripped off on some cheap low-grade MJ or Chief Zumwalt’s real name is actually Chief Dumbwitt. Try again chief.

  4. oldwolf49 says:

    White, blond, why didn’t I get a break; oh yeah, I’m a minority.

  5. barelyblase says:

    you’re an incoherent idiot!

  6. iratemom says:

    If they weren’t going to follow the lawful procedures they should have at least turned those buses around and sent them home. They should not have been “rewarded with a vacation”. To let the teens travel on without any problem sent a terrible message to the youth of today and obviously the entire world. This was one of the most pathetic stories of teens I’ve seen in a long time.

  7. jm says:

    Elko Police Chief Don Zumwalt did the right thing. It would have been a waste of time and money to arrest the kids when probation is usually granted for first and second time offenders anyway. The kids will probably be punished sufficiently when they get home.

    Most kids smoke marijuana now anyhow, these punative laws should just be eliminated.

  8. Rsmart says:

    Hey…why is it that it becomes someone else responsibility to police these kids? Do you mean to tell me that all the parents are totally clueless to the fact that the kids are user! THIS IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PARENTS TO MAKE SURE THERE KID IS NOT TAKING DRUGS…..not the tour co not the bus co….Do your jobs as parents! 

  9. kw says:

    Was this a school trip – or just a vacation for teens?

  10. cnote says:

    In 20 years this won’t even be news…

    This is how things go down now! These are obviously social, active teens making their own decisions regardless of what you “make” them do. Trust me, they would have been worse off getting busted and being in jail because makes you learn to resent the justice system and what it is really meant for. You should be more worried about the teens who are just sitting around all winter not doing anything active and fun, yet probably still smoking weed. I mean, come on, if the worst thing they had on the bus was mushrooms, I think they will be alright.

    This is coming from a 23 year old.

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