A tall man carrying a long gun wrapped in a shirt sparked a manhunt that lasted over six hours Friday, Aug. 22, when he ran from police in the Marietta area, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.
The search ended in the evening, with an arrest in the muddy slough at the mouth of the Nooksack River.
A concerned citizen first saw the man dressed in all black — a black tank top, black jeans and a black baseball cap turned backwards — walking along the railroad tracks near Marine Drive late Friday morning. The man held what looked like a rifle or a shotgun hidden under a cloth, said Whatcom County Sheriff’s Chief Criminal Deputy Doug Chadwick.
Sheriff’s deputies drove to Marietta to check on the report of a suspicious, armed man. Once they caught sight of him near Country Lane and Bancroft Road, he ran off and ducked into some bushes.
“Obviously,” Chadwick said, “that puts up some red flags for us.”
A U.S. border helicopter and police dogs joined in a manhunt around 11:45 a.m. Hours passed. People in the neighborhood, on Marine Drive and Jones Lane, called 911 saying they’d spotted the man — now dirty, shirtless, in shorts — acting like he was on the run from something.
Deputies hustled to the scene of each sighting but couldn’t find their suspect. The helicopter, from the U.S. Border Customs and Border Protection's Office of Air and Marine, remained airborne long enough it needed to refuel at least once. Residents were told to stay indoors with their doors locked.
Sometime in the afternoon, the man might have ditched or hidden the gun.
A passerby spotted the man on a trail at 4:30 p.m. headed toward a slough where the Nooksack River meets Bellingham Bay. So the sheriff’s office borrowed a Fish & Wildlife boat to better scan the shoreline and to more easily navigate the slough.
“We’ve come at him by land and air,” Chadwick said, “now we’re going to come at him by water.”
During the manhunt, the man was wanted for only one charge: obstructing law enforcement. But Chadwick expected there would be more charges, like trespassing and burglary, once deputies arrested him, retraced his steps and figured out why the man was running.
Sheriff's deputies radioed that the man had been arrested around 6:20 p.m.
Update at 10 p.m. Deputies booked Wilford Howard Sturgeon, 45, into jail late Friday on a Department of Corrections warrant. He's expected to face charges of residential burglary — for breaking into a home as he tried to hide, said Sgt. Scott Huso — and obstructing law enforcement.
The case remains under investigation. So Sturgeon could face more charges, Huso said.
Sturgeon has six felonies on his record. He had been on probation for two arsons he committed in 2012. Recent court documents list him at an imposing 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds.