Local News

Rattlesnakes, Coffin Seized in Pot Bust

Posted August 23, 2007 6:32 p.m. EDT
Updated August 23, 2007 9:58 p.m. EDT

— A marijuana bust on Monday ranks among the most unusual arrests in Sampson County history, authorities said.

In addition to seizing more than 160 marijuana plants worth an estimated $425,000 and extensive growing equipment, investigators found three large rattlesnakes on ice in a freezer, an inactive hand grenade and a metal coffin, Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said.

George Claven Melton Jr., 44, of 11005 Harrells Highway, is charged with manufacturing marijuana and three counts of possession of an endangered species.

"His method of operation is totally different than what we've been accustomed to seeing," Thornton said. "He had probably 100-plus magazines that would show you how to grow marijuana in different forms and fashions."

Most of the plants were found inside an abandoned tractor-trailer next to Melton's residence. Another growing operation was in a bedroom, authorities said.

"It wouldn't have been easily known or even thought of as being a clandestine marijuana-growing unit," Thornton said.

An airborne marijuana-eradication effort by Sampson County deputies and the North Carolina National Guard located the operation, authorities said.

Thornton said the operation probably generated about $4,000 a week.

It's unclear how Melton obtained the rattlesnakes, which were sealed in plastic bags. But Thornton said the snakes and the coffin likely were used to scare off intruders.

"Our thinking is he had those there as maybe warding off us as law enforcement or other drug dealers," the sheriff said.