03/29/2006

Once-snowbound couple captured, Pair facing drug charges

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) -- A couple sought on drug charges after their rescue from the mountains of southwest Oregon were arrested Tuesday in Washington state, authorities said.

Elbert and Becky Higginbotham were stopped without incident near the coastal city of Long Beach, Washington, a Pacific County dispatcher said.

The Higginbothams were in the same motor home where they spent 17 snowbound days this month. Their March 21 rescue attracted national attention.

But the joy of the rescue quickly turned sour when Arizona authorities recognized the Higginbothams as a couple who had been caught with methamphetamine and a shotgun, reneged on a promise to cooperate with investigators and disappeared.

Gary Butler, sheriff of Arizona's Navajo County, said he had arranged with authorities in southern Oregon to detain the Higginbothams and have them sent back to his state, where warrants were issued last week. But the couple went missing again Sunday.

The couple had probably faced probation on the drug charges, Butler said, but now could spend time in jail for felony flight.

The Higginbothams left Ashland, Oregon, on Sunday night, authorities said.

The couple had come to Oregon to visit Becky Higginbotham's son and family in Ashland. They and four relatives left March 4 on a trip to the Oregon coast but became stuck in the snow on back roads, leading to the rescue.

A relative said he helped the Higginbothams load their vehicle Sunday and discussed which way they might head.

"They said they were going to California," said Ezekiel Hill, 23, of Ashland.

But instead, the couple started out heading north on Interstate 5, said Ed Hill, Ezekiel's father.

"We gave them $38 for gas; it's all we had," he said.

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