Three Rivers is not a high crime area. But when there is a confrontation with local law enforcement there is usually a connection to drugs.
On Saturday, Feb. 17, Sequoia National Park law enforcement rangers alerted local sheriff’s deputies that there was a suspicious individual who apparently had walked down from the mountains and be might associated with a reported grow site in the East Fork of the Kaweah River near Mineral King Road.
When Mark Frick, Three Rivers resident deputy, came on duty that day, his first call was to investigate a possible burglary in the 45000 block of Crest Drive, an isolated road with several homes in the Sierra King subdivision off the Mineral King Road. Nothing was taken, according to the property owner, so the broken garage window in the incident report became misdemeanor vandalism.
In the course of the investigation, Deputy Frick confronted the individual who was seen in the Mineral King Road area but was now walking along Sierra Drive. The individual was identified at Berman Omar Balderas, a Nicaraguan national who had only been in the U.S. for a few months.
National Park Service interpreters assisted in the questioning of the individual but had difficulty understanding the man’s dialect, Frick reported. It was determined that Balderas had been in the area where the garage window was broken so he was arrested on a vandalism charge and being under the influence of a controlled substance.
“It was freezing cold that morning so maybe the guy was just looking for a warm place to hang out,” Deputy Frick said. “This case is a reminder. We all need to be vigilant of transients who wander into town. Pot might be legal now but for the cartels planting illegal grow sites on public lands, it is business as usual.”
Balderas was taken to Visalia where he was booked on misdemeanor vandalism and under the influence charges. Because California is a sanctuary state, Frick said, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was not notified and after processing, Balderas was released.
At 3 p.m. that same day, at the intersection of Sierra and North Fork drives, Deputy Frick made a traffic stop of a vehicle with no license plates. The vehicle was reportedly seen parked earlier that same day near the 42000 block of North Kaweah Drive.
The driver of the vehicle initially gave Deputy Frick false information, but she was eventually identified as Betty Phipps, 37, of Visalia. After running a background check, Phipps came back wanted on several drug and burglary warrants with bail of $300,000.
The passenger in the vehicle was identified as Michelle Hovsepian, 39, also of Visalia. Her background check revealed warrants for misdemeanor drug charges with a $25,000 bail.
Hovsepian also had her two children in the car; they were released to the care of their grandmother. No drugs were found in the vehicle.
Both suspects were taken to the Tulare County Adult Pre-Trial Facility where they were jailed on the outstanding warrants. As of Wednesday, Feb. 21, Phipps remained in custody.