EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story is based on a ride-along reporter Cary Ashby and photographer Lou Reda did Thursday with a Huron County marijuana eradication team.
The sweet, distinct smell of the three marijuana plants permeated the air, even without being able to see them.
"That's a good size one," Huron County Sheriff's Cpl. Jeff Kerber said about the nearly six-foot tall plant in the Yingling Road corn field.
Retired Sheriff's Capt. Jim VanHentenryck and Wakeman Police Sgt. Josh Milchen earlier had trudged along the tree line with Kerber. The trio, part of an area marijuana eradication team, then plunged into the corn field proper to find the marijuana plants spotted from the air by a Marion County sheriff's pilot.
"You can tell they had been walking along the tree line," Milchen said about the suspects who planted the marijuana.
Authorities seized 53 total plants from five corn fields Thursday: Yingling Road, two Edmonds Road sites less than a quarter mile apart, Prairie Road south of Bauer Road and Opperman Road.
Kerber, in charge of Thursday's operation, had expected to find "at least a couple hundred" plants at 15 possible sites. He said authorities often find the marijuana by chance and by checking known growing areas.
"It depends if they plant beans or corn," Kerber added.
Authorities get information about where marijuana plants are possibly growing from anonymous callers, snitches, farmers or residents who have seen suspicious activity.
"Every once in a while you'll find one in someone's garden," Kerber said. "Sometimes I go by smell if I can't find them."
The Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation (BCI&I) organizes the searches about once a year in Huron County, usually about August. Each search lasts between five and eight hours, depending on where the helicopter is based.
"We'll be lucky to get two (searches), but usually it's a one-time thing," said Kerber, who has been doing this for the last decade.
VanHentenryck, who started doing marijuana eradication about 1987, said one search in October didn't net any marijuana because it all been harvested.
In 2005, authorities seized about 450 plants in Crawford County near Section Line Road and Baseline Road.
"That was the biggest single patch we've had. We've had a couple over a hundred," VanHentenryck said.
He said the most challenging part is coordinating information between the pilot and the ground team.
Thursday exemplified that challenge as the ground team waited north of Monroeville at a Lameraux Road corn field. Quite a bit of time passed with no word from the pilot and his spotter.
"I need him to come back here is what I need him to do. He should have found some by now," Kerber said.
"He ought to be about (flying at) 200 feet," added VanHentenryck, who has been a spotter.
He said if a pilot is too high or flying too fast, it will be difficult to find any marijuana. VanHentenryck also pointed out if a spotter keeps the officers in vehicles informed on a timely basis, it gives them time to meet the helicopter at the next field.
The team netted its first find three plants about 11:30 a.m. on Yingling Road. About 20 minutes later, authorities found 21 more marijuana plants in two fields on the same stretch of Edmonds Road. Earlier at a pheasant farm on the same road, officers discovered "empty holes" where someone had pulled the plants.
Kerber said the searches rarely net an arrest because it's difficult to narrow down who might have planted the marijuana in the middle of a corn field, where there are few homes.
Involved in Thursday's search were: Kerber, VanHentenryck, Milchen, Wakeman Police Capt. Tim Hunker, special Sheriff's Deputy Lon Burton, Huron County Probation Officer Andrea Cooke and two BCI&I agents.