The buses were headed to Utah when they pulled over in Elko, Nevada. Instead of sighting and arresting 250 kids, the Elko police chief just let them continue onto Utah saying getting names and matching the kids to the contraband would have been a logistical nightmare. Also, with just 20 beds at juvenile hall, where would he put them all?
Police found pipes, bongs, booze and what could be pounds of marijuana. It was all confiscated Tuesday from a bus full of Bay Area high school students. The buses had stopped for food in Elko and that's when the trouble began.
"Some of them apparently were smoking or maybe even smoking marijuana outside the bus and it appeared suspicious to the people at the Maverick," said Elko Police Chief Don Zumwalt. He said that's when police were called and Zumwalt said, "Our officers went with our K-9 units and the sheriff's department K-9 unit was there as well to assist us and the drug dogs hit on all five buses."
The trip was organized by SWAT, Summer Winter Action Tours. SWAT's owner and president Thomas TJ Jaenichen wasn't thrilled with how police handled the situation. He spoke to us by phone.
"They pretty much found an astonishing amount of marijuana and alcohol," said Jaenichen. "The police said, 'Hey, if there's anymore contraband on the bus, you guys need to turn it over and you won't get in trouble' type of thing."
"It's a tough situation to hear about when you're looking at kids who are supposed to be going out having a fun time," said Larry Cowling, a Bay Area parent.
Thursday night, Cowling was at Miramonte High School to watch his 15-year-old daughter play in a basketball tournament. He says police are sending the wrong message.
"I think you have to put an iron fist down to send a message that you know what, this is not going to be tolerated, kind of a zero tolerance situation," said Cowling.
SWAT's owner agreed so he did his own investigation by asking his chaperones and security and handed down his own punishment.
"Once that bus got to Salt Lake City that night, we stopped the bus, interviewed everybody and we sent 17 kids home," said Jaenichen.
SWAT says they take these matters seriously and all the students and parents had to sign a behavior code before the trip. This group of kids was just a fraction of the entire trip dubbed El Nino 2011. There are 1,800 high school students from all over California and Arizona with 32 busses, staying in four hotels, and visiting two ski resorts.