03/27/2006

Lost couple face meth charges; Coverage of Oregon rescue leads Arizona police to issue warrants

ASHLAND, Oregon (AP) -- Arizona authorities have brought drug charges against a couple who were rescued with four family members from their snowbound motor home in Oregon this week.

Warrants were issued in Snowflake, Arizona, for Elbert and Becky Higginbotham on Wednesday, a day after they were found in the mountains.

The couple were charged with possession of dangerous drugs for sale -- methamphetamine -- and possession of drug paraphernalia. Elbert Higginbotham is also wanted on a charge of misconduct involving weapons.

The Ashland Daily Tidings newspaper said the warrants were issued after Arizona authorities saw TV coverage of the rescue.

In an interview in Friday's newspaper, Elbert Higginbotham acknowledged he had been arrested on drug charges in Arizona, where the couple live, but said the drugs were not his. "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

The family -- the two Higginbothams, Becky Higginbotham's son Peter Stivers, his wife and their two children -- had set out from Ashland in the motor home March 4. They were found stranded on a back road Tuesday.

Higginbotham said he would contact Arizona authorities. "I've got to call them and take care of business. We don't run from things," he said.

Deputy Cmdr. Kelly Clark of the Navajo County Sheriff's Department told the newspaper that the Higginbothams were arrested last year but were not charged at the time because they agreed to cooperate with investigators.

"We let them go because they expressed an interest in working with law enforcement," Clark said. "We haven't seen hide nor hair of him since."

Police in Ashland said Friday they had not been contacted by Arizona authorities about the warrant and had no reason to arrest the couple.

The couple's whereabouts were not immediately clear. Stivers' mother-in-law, Rose Hill, said Friday the family had not heard from the Higginbothams since Thursday afternoon.

Authorities and Elbert Higginbotham said he was house-sitting for a friend in Heber, Arizona, when police raided the home. Higginbotham said he knew drugs were in the home.

But he said: "We weren't dealing in any way shape or form. We told the cops who were doing it, and now they are making it out like we did it."

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