Three weeks after a group of drunk men tore into a national park site in remote Nevada and plunged into a protected desert pool, allegedly killing an extremely endangered tiny fish, authorities say they will now face federal charges.
The Nye County Sheriff's Department on Thursday identified the three men who allegedly broke into Devils Hole site at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge as Steven Schwinkendorf, 29, Edgar Reyes, 35, and Trenton Sargent, 26. All three hail from Nevada's Clark County and face charges related to conspiracy, killing an endangered species, trespassing, and destroying property and habitat.
Sheriff's officials say the incident unfolded at around 7:20 p.m. on April 30 after the men, who had been drinking, went out shooting rabbits and ended up at Devils Hole, a body of water that is part of Death Valley National Park.
The pool, which is about 8 feet by 40 feet wide and 500 feet deep, is the only natural habitat for a population of about 115 pupfish that evolved there for thousands of years.
"It is very endangered and it has the smallest natural habitat of any vertebrate species on Earth," park spokeswoman Abby Wines told BuzzFeed News.
The fish are so endangered that the National Park Service built gates around Devils Hole and installed an underwater video monitoring system.
Schwinkendorf, Reyes, and Sargent shot their way through two gates to get into the area, the park service reported, and then tried to disable the security system. But the men failed and a security camera instead recorded the men trespassing.
An underwater camera set up to record pupfish habitat and activity later caught one of the men wading into the water. According to park officials, the man "left his boxer shorts behind in the water."
"Alcohol was involved," the park service said in a statement. "Three beer cans were left behind and one man vomited."
Less than two days later, park employees found a dead pupfish floating in the water. An analysis showed that it had died during a window of time that included the men's alleged trespassing. The Nye County Sheriff's Department reported that the "intrusion is believed to have resulted in the death of at least one endangered Devils Hole pupfish."
Wines said that when she heard about the incident, she "felt like someone had punched me in the stomach."
"I felt physically sick and so worried," she said.
The upside, she added, was that "it looked like it was just drunken mayhem, not an intentional attack on the fish."
Still, Wines said, the incident doesn't help the fragile fish population: The man who waded into the water walked over the shallow shelf where the fish lay their eggs. He also disrupted the algae the fish eat, Wines said.
The Nye County Sheriff's Department did not immediately return BuzzFeed News' request for comment. However, in a statement it explained that the suspects were tracked down after an investigation by the park service and the sheriff's Scorpion Task Force.
Investigators collected DNA evidence from the scene, identified the suspects' vehicle in the security footage, and interviewed each of the men.
During the course of the investigation, the National Park Service also offered a $5,000 reward int he case.
Investigators ultimately determined the damage to the facility was severe enough to warrant felony charges. The sheriff's department also noted that "the killing of an endangered species is a felony crime."
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at email@example.com.
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