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When Vlad Pech looked across the street Thursday morning, he saw the type of pulse-pounding scene you might see at your local cinema: Dozens of men wearing police helmets and armed with guns waited outside targeted homes.
Pech had stumbled upon a blockbuster, sure, except this blockbuster’s participants and the dramatic moments that occurred Thursday at the homes of suspected marijuana growers across Vancouver were all real.
“It was kind of scary,” Pech, 30, said of police actions on Northeast 65th Street and Northeast 139th Court. “It felt like a movie.”
Operation Gang Green, a two-year operation by the Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force, netted 6,800 marijuana plants and resulted in 49 arrests at 56 locations Thursday, authorities said. Officials labeled Thursday’s operation Clark County’s largest bust ever and remarked that it served as proof Clark County was among the West Coast’s major marijuana producers.
Forty-nine people made first appearances in Clark County District Court Friday on charges associated with Operation Gang Green. Their cases are pending.
For Pech and others who live near the suspected marijuana growers, the idea that criminal activity had happened so close to their homes remained a foreign and shocking thought on the day after the bust.
Those interviewed for this story said their neighbors’ behavior did not trigger alarms. Most suspected growers kept a low profile, keeping blinds closed and rarely going outside. Many had luxury vehicles, however.
Pech recalled brief, cordial interactions with his neighbors across the street at 13902 N.E. 65th St.
“When I mowed my grass, they would say, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ and then that was it,” he said, noting they would soon return inside their house.
Pech moved into the neighborhood eight months earlier. Neither he nor his brother-in-law, Sergey Prokopenko, suspected anything amiss. They described the cul-de-sac as “quiet.”
A Mercedes-Benz often sat parked outside the two-story house on 65th Street. That such a car would be parked outside did not raise suspicions, Prokopenko said.
A second neighbor, a 40-year-old woman named Agnes, said she noticed a Mercedes-Benz and BMW in the driveway from time to time, but they normally did not stay there long. She asked her family name not be used due to fear of retribution.
The blinds at the house were always down and the home’s occupants came and went with duffel bags, the neighbor said. Children visited the house periodically, she added.
On Thursday, when she arrived home from a 12-hour workday, her neighbor’s upstairs window was open. The smell leaking out the house made her dizzy, she said.
Agnes attempted to shield her 12-year-old son from news of the bust. She conceded it was hard because police had surrounded the neighborhood. She worried about the long-term influence the alleged criminal enterprises might have had.
“That’s not good for our neighbors,” the woman said. “We have young kids here. What if they were solicited?”
Fewer than 100 yards away from the suspected grow house on 65th Street were three successive two-story houses on Northeast 139th Court where authorities made arrests the previous day.
A short man with black hair and a thin mustache walked out of the residence at 6409 N.E. 139th Court — an off-white home with a light brown sofa outside the door and a satellite dish above the garage.
“I don’t know what happened,” the man said. Further questioning led to variations of the phrase.
A woman who answered the house’s door moments later spoke no English. A boy clutching a small dog relayed a message from her that they had sent someone to the police station to seek a jailed person’s release.
The two homes at 6411 and 6415 N.E. 139th Court appeared vacant. A Ford minivan sat idle in the driveway of 6411 N.E. 139th Court. Clark County property records showed Nhat and Elizabeth Nguyen of Vancouver owned the homes at 6409, 6411 and 6415 N.E. 139th Court.
Victoria Sorochan, 24, heard police banging on her neighbors’ doors on 139th Court around 7:30 a.m. Thursday. Like others, she had noticed her neighbors drove nice cars but had no idea they might have obtained the cars through illegal means.
The events of the previous day failed to scare her, she said.
“If they had guns or more serious drugs, I would probably consider moving out,” Sorochan said. “But weed? Even teenagers are doing it these days. I’m surprised, but not really.”
Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; firstname.lastname@example.org.