Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

News

Idiots Who Vandalized Death Valley Charged With Killing An Endangered Species

LAist relies on your reader support, not paywalls.
Freely accessible local news is vital. Please power our reporters and help keep us independent with a donation today.


The three men who were caught on video drunkenly vandalizing Death Valley National Park (possibly leading to the death of a rare fish) have been identified and charged.On Thursday afternoon, the Nye County Sheriff's Office announced that Steven Schwinkendorf, Edgar Reyes and Trenton Sargent all had been hit with felony charges including killing of an endangered species, destruction of habitat, trespassing, and destruction of property. On the evening of April 30, all three men broke into the 40-acre Devils Hole Unit of Death Valley National Park and shot at locks and the unit's security system. The men left behind beer cans and vomit. One of them climbed down the rocks into the Devils Hole pool—the only home of the rare Devils Hole pupfish—and went skinny-dipping, leaving behind his "dirty" boxer shorts and possibly a dead pupfish in his wake.

"The intrusion is believed to have resulted in the death of at least one endangered Devils Hole Pupfish, and fisheries biologists are trying to ascertain the extended damage that may have been done to food sources and egg sites which could lead to more loss of a species who's numbers are now below the last count of 115 in existence," said the Nye County Sheriff's Office in a press release. "The killing of an endangered species is a felony crime."

"We're looking forward to seeing these three men brought to justice," said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Not only did they act stupid but they destroyed some of the last remaining habitat for one of the rarest fish in the United States." The Center for Biological Diversity offered $10,000 towards the arrest of the vandals, raising the reward in the case to a total of $15,000.

Support for LAist comes from

Surveillance footage, showing the men trespassing and vandalizing Devils Hole. At 0:39, you can see underwater footage of one of the men wading in the water.

According to officials, investigators were able to track the off-road vehicle in the security footage and found that it belonged to Schwinkendorf. DNA evidence was also collected at the scene. All three have been contacted and interviewed by sheriff's officials, and investigators say the men were out drinking and shooting rabbits in the area before they decided to trespass into Devils Hole.

Sheriff's officials also said a charge of an ex-felon in possession of a firearm was also on the docket, but did not say which of the three men it applied to. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Sargent had plead guilty to a felony charge of attempted burglary in 2012.

Postmortem analysis of the dead fish determined it may have died when one of the vandals went wading in Devils Hole, but its cause of death may never be determined, a park official told the L.A. Times.

"April through May is the peak spawning season for this annual fish, and so the intruder likely crushed and destroyed eggs on the shelf," the park service said in a press release.

Support for LAist comes from

The tiny fish, which grows no more than an inch long, is thought to be the descendants of the fish that once inhabited a wetter Death Valley region, though their natural history is mostly a mystery to scientists. They are only found in Devils Hole and live in the top few feet of the pool and said to be the world's rarest fish.

While only 115 fish were counted in April, their population fluctuates during the year, peaking to around 500 in the summer.