Charges dismissed in dead bear case |

Charges dismissed in dead bear case

Gregory Crofton

How did a dead bear cub do so much damage?

A judge put an end to the pummeling Friday when he dismissed charges filed against a Meyers couple.

Ruth Cecchettini-Hughes and Rick Hughes had each been charged with two misdemeanors because they took a bear carcass from a county freezer.

El Dorado Animal Control had scooped the dead animal from Emerald Bay Road. A car hit and killed the bear near Taylor Creek December 2.

A day or two later, the couple made what was to be a scandalous move.

They took it home and skinned it and buried its body in their backyard. They did not take the carcass for profit or as a trophy. They wanted to keep its hide to preserve its spirit, a move that reflected both of their Native American roots.

The next day they read in the Tahoe Daily Tribune that someone stole a dead cub from a freezer at El Dorado County Animal Control.

They panicked. The Hugheses hadn’t realized what they did violated a law, one that says it’s illegal to possess roadkill.

They dug up the cub, tossed the hide and began to deal with their shock. Then, after an anonymous tip, a warden from California Department of Fish and Game showed up at their door.

The Hugheses admitted they took the cub and led the warden to the body and the hide.

The warden issued them a ticket. That’s when embarrassment swooped in and surrounded them.

Their names were in the newspaper often.

Even worse, Ruth Hughes, 56, who had worked for animal control for nine years, lost a job she loved.

“For me and my husband it has been hell,” she said. “I lost my job, and there’s no way I’ll get that back.”

Friday Judge Jerald Lasarow dismissed all the charges after a motion from the Hugheses’ court-appointed defense attorney. Ruth Hughes said the court decided the charges did not fit the crime because the laws exist to protect living animals, not roadkill.

Hughes said she and her husband took the cub in the spur of the moment.

“It was not done maliciously or without reverence,” she said. “It was to keep this little bear from going to the rendering company. The county has chosen to fire me, hopefully it is their loss not mine.”

El Dorado County Health Department fired Hughes after an internal investigation. Now she has a another job, one she does not want to reveal specifically.

“I’m working with animals,” she said, pleased that her new job puts her in contact with more animals than her old job did. “At least now I’m working with the animals I love.”

Rick Hughes, a 41-year-old contractor who has been married to Ruth for about a year, said he learned a lesson from this ordeal.

“I never knew it would go this far,” he said. “Even though what I did was right, I’d tell others ‘Don’t do it.’ What my wife and I went through was wrong.”

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