SEATTLE - A well-known Washington state medical marijuana activist traded gunfire with robbers who invaded his home early Monday, suffering minor shotgun pellet wounds and sending one intruder to the intensive care unit of a hospital.
Activist Steve Sarich, 59, runs CannaCare, an organization that provides patients with marijuana plants and advice about Washington's law.
"I don't want to shoot people, but God, this is our eighth home invasion since last May," he told The Associated Press.
Sarich said he was awakened at his Kirkland home by the barking of his dogs, then grabbed a .22-caliber handgun and headed down a hallway outside his bedroom.
A man with a shotgun confronted him in the living room and fired, he said. The main blast struck a wall a few inches from his head, Sarich said. One pellet struck his face while another hit his leg.
Sarich shot at the robber but missed. When his gun jammed, he darted back to his bedroom and grabbed another handgun. He spotted another robber standing outside the glass door to his bedroom and fired three times, hitting the robber multiple times.
Sarich's live-in girlfriend called 911, as did the wounded robber, a 19-year-old from Renton. King County sheriff's deputies found him in the backyard and took him to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he underwent surgery for life-threatening wounds.
Sheriff's deputies arrested a second suspect, also 19, as he tried to flag down a ride nearby a few hours later. That suspect gave investigators the names of two others involved in the robbery attempt who had fled in a vehicle. They remained at large, sheriff's Sgt. John Urquhart said.
Neighbors living near the house on Juanita Drive NE watched in amazement this morning as a SWAT team descended on the secluded home.
They say most people in the area are aware of the medical marijuana being grown on the property and the frequent gatherings of medical marijuana supporters and users. It had bothered some.
"The other neighbor that lives right next door to me, she just moved a week ago, her and her husband, because they couldn't take it anymore," said neighbor Mark Stumpf.
But others say they weren't overly concerned - until Monday morning, when bullets started flying during the home invasion robbery.
"We do see a lot of traffic there. They've never bothered us, but we do realize with a marijuana clinic, I feel at least other things come along. And this obviously may have been a result of that. This may have been an 'other thing'," said Lauri Boritz.
The home invasion came just two days after a medical marijuana patient from Orting, Michael Howard, died of injuries sustained March 9 when robbers targeted his growing operation, according to Ben Livingston, of the Cannabis Defense Coalition.
Howard was struck in the head during the robbery, possibly with a crowbar, Thurston County sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer said Monday. Deputies found 150 marijuana plants in a shed on the property and are investigating the case as a homicide.
Sarich said he only grows starter plants and clones in his home that are provided to patients. He himself is a patient who suffers from painful back conditions including degenerative disc disorder, he said.
Sarich said he fired shots to scare robbers during a January break-in at his home when intruders escaped with seeds, a vaporizer and pipes.
Sarich said he typically doesn't call police when his house is broken into because he doesn't want to deal with the hassle of having his home searched by law enforcement checking his compliance with the state's medical marijuana law.
Investigators on Monday were waiting to obtain a search warrant for Sarich's home, but Urquhart said he didn't immediately know if the warrant pertained to the shooting investigation or the marijuana present.
Douglas Hiatt, a medical marijuana attorney in Seattle who has worked with Sarich and who knew Howard, said the cases show the dangers presented by marijuana prohibition.
Hiatt is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would remove all criminal penalties for adult use, possession and distribution of marijuana.
"This is directly related to prohibition," Hiatt said. "It's what happens when you make a house plant worth more than gold."