ERWIN — Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said the outcome of arrest could have been much worse for a Roan Mountain man taken into custody earlier this week after he allegedly picked the wrong group of hikers to attempt to take hostage.
Marcus F. Birchfield, 40, 962 Hampton Creek Road, Roan Mountain, was arrested by the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and charged with four counts of aggravated kidnapping, impersonating a police officer, going armed, possession of a schedule II drug and possession of drug paraphernalia.
It was a little before midnight Monday when Hensley said Unicoi County 911 received a call stating an individual was holding several hikers hostage at the Beauty Spot lookout on Unaka Mountain. Hensley, who took the call, said the caller stated the man had approached the group of five hikers with a handgun drawn, told them that he was a game warden, and ordered them to get down on their hands and knees. The 911 call, Hensley said, came from one of the hikers allegedly being taken hostage.
Hensley said he immediately notified UCSD Chief Deputy Frank Rogers and U.S. Forest Service Agent Kim Coleman of the situation. An officer was dispatched to the Red Fork Falls entrance, which is the entrance to the Beauty Spot lookout in the Limestone Cove area, to seal off the road there. Hensley said he then “raced” to the top of Indian Grave Gap, which is at the North Carolina border up Rock Creek Road, to block the road there and await the arrival of other officers.
As officers ascended the mountain and headed to the scene, Hensley said another 911 came in. In this one, the caller advised that the hikers, two of whom were U.S. Coast Guard officers, had gotten the opportunity to get Birchfield’s gun away from him and subdue him, Hensley said.
Hensley said the hikers had already hogtied Birchfield with parachute rope by the time officers arrived at the scene.
“So when they got the chance, they sucker punched him, knocked him down, and were able to subdue him and tied him up,” Hensley said.
Unicoi County officials took Birchfield into custody early Tuesday morning. Hensley said Birchfield had the “strong odor of intoxicant about his person” when officers arrived at the scene. He was found also to be in possession of a bottle containing oxycodone and a sniffing straw, according to the arrest report. Hensley also said the 9 mm handgun in Birchfield’s possession was fully loaded.
Hensley said the Coast Guard officers were aware Birchfield was not a law enforcement official as he possessed no credentials. He also said the group of hikers all gave the same account of the incident.
“They all gave the same story that he came down in a truck, got out waving a handgun, told them that he was a game warden, and for them to get down on their hands and knees,” Hensley said. “He actually searched them, he asked them if they were partying, if they had drugs. He was wanting to party and have some drugs.”
Other than a couple of minor traffic violations, Hensley said Birchfield had no prior criminal record. According to the arrest report, Birchfield admitted pointing a gun at the campers and identifying himself as a game warden.
“He’s very lucky that one of the hikers didn’t kill him, and if we had pulled up there on the scene and he would have been holding all these guys at gunpoint, we could have been forced to have to do something,” Hensley said. “But luckily it all worked out. It was a good ending. Nobody got hurt.”
Birchfield was arraigned Wednesday in Unicoi County Sessions Court and was released from jail after posting a $75,000 corporate bond. He is scheduled to again appear in Sessions Court next Thursday.