Two heavily armed teenagers nearly murdered a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer during a recent traffic stop outside Prineville, according to newly released court records.
Arrest reports related to the September break-in of the explosives magazine of the Forest Service’s Ochoco Ranger Station were released this week, following the sentencing of one of the defendants. The documents show how close a pair of Crook County High School students came to causing a tragedy.
Crook County District Attorney Wade Whiting called the crime shocking in part because the culprits were so young.
“The level of criminality displayed by these two young men is unprecedented in my time in Crook County,” Whiting said. “Needless to say, they have our full attention going forward and will be closely supervised by our juvenile department and adult community corrections.”
The older of the defendants, Kaden Michael Bernard, 18, was sentenced last week in Crook County Circuit Court. He pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a weapon, second-degree burglary and first-degree theft — all felonies — and two counts of misdemeanor reckless endangering. He was ordered to serve 80 days in jail and five years probation and pay more than $2,800 in restitution for damage done to the ranger station.
Because of the co-defendant’s age, he was not charged as an adult.
The Bulletin does not typically name defendants in the juvenile justice system.
On Sept. 19, Forest Service employee Jim David, who’s responsible for the blasting program in the Ochoco National Forest, was conducting an inspection of the ranger station’s blasting cap magazine on Highway 42 when he noticed explosives were missing, according to an incident report filed by the Forest Service.
David next walked to the magazine that stores the office’s high explosives about 100 yards away, and noticed damage to the side of the building, as if someone was trying to break in but was unsuccessful.
The Forest Service maintains a blasting program for tree removal and road and trail maintenance.
Special Agent Erik Larson with the Forest Service was called in to investigate. Larson determined a “significant” amount of explosives were missing from the facility. After conducting interviews and gathering evidence, he ensured the fence protecting the two explosive storage magazines was secured with a chain and a lock, according to the supplemental report.
At around 10 p.m. Sept. 20, Forest Service law enforcement officer Mark Ditzel returned to the facility to look for additional evidence. He saw something amiss — the fence securing the explosive storage magazines was no longer secured by a lock and chain. He noticed distinct footprints in the mud near the blasting cap magazine.
Ditzel went to the facility’s warehouse to find a chain to secure the fence again. About a half-hour after arriving, he noticed a truck with its headlights on parked across the highway. It didn’t move for about five minutes.
As he drove toward the truck, it pulled out and headed north on the highway. He hit his overhead flashing lights and pulled the truck over. Inside were two teenage boys. On the passenger seat was an AK-47-style rifle, and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun and SKS rifle. In the rear of the cab were bolt cutters and a brand-new DeWalt cordless reciprocating saw.
The boys, Bernard and the co-defendant, told Ditzel they’d been invited on Snapchat to a party in the Ochoco National Forest, and they wanted to break it up by calling police to the location. The officer asked why they needed the rifles. They said they “needed protection” since they were heading for the woods.
Ditzel suspected they were involved in the break-in but didn’t have probable cause to make an arrest. So he asked if he could take their bolt cutters to prove they were involved in the break-in. They agreed, and he let them go with a warning for driving without license plates.
The boys were later arrested. A caller told police the two had broken into the ranger station to steal blasting caps and had possibly killed a forest ranger. And an interview with the unnamed co-defendant’s parents revealed holes in their story.
The boys were brought in for questioning, and they blamed each other.
The co-defendant said Bernard had intimidated him into the repeated break-ins, at one point firing a shot in front of his face while they were seated in the truck. He said they didn’t know what kind of damage the blasting caps were capable of, but they wanted to find out.
Under questioning, Bernard said the only reason Ditzel is alive today was because Bernard had stopped his friend from shooting the officer when he stopped their truck. The co-defendant was reaching for the shotgun when Bernard grabbed his friend’s arm and told him “It’s not worth it,” according to Bernard.
“Kaden told me that (the co-defendant’s) mindset was to get away and he did not think about the long-term consequences,” wrote Crook County Sheriff’s deputy Billy Elliott in an incident report. “I advised Kaden that shooting a person was not worth the consequences.”
Following the interview, Bernard was taken to Crook County jail.