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Digging Deeper: Illegal activities on state-owned land becoming a nuisance for some residents

TUCSON – Over the past several months, authorities have teamed up to launch a major crackdown on dangerous and illegal activity on taxpayer-owned land on the city’s southwest side.

The operation is dubbed ‘Silent Desert.’

The State Trust land is located at Valhalla and Valencia, and is less than one mile from newly constructed homes.

On Sundays, hundreds of people riding all-terrain and other off-road vehicles gather to race.

It’s called Sunday Fun Day, but as Pima County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Barajas told the Digging Deeper Team, it’s anything but a fun day for the nearby residents who complain about the noise and dust pollution.

Deputy Barajas is a member of the Directed Patrol Unit for the San Xavier District.

It’s a squad that deals with quality of life issues.

He says quads race up and down the area.

There are also trucks racing against quads, as families including small children line up to watch the races.

The Digging Deeper team looked into the numbers, and found on one Sunday in August law enforcement encountered as many as 300 people in just one afternoon.

Clouds of dust from vehicles racing in the desert area could clearly be seen from miles around.

Deputy Barajas tells News 4 Tucson, it looked like a haboob was affecting the city

That’s not all that occurs, one resident who asked not to be identified said his house was struck by a stray bullet.

He is just one of many residents who have experienced problems.

“I guess people believe that hey what goes up stays up. No it comes down. They just don’t understand that it’s going to probably hurt somebody maybe somebody’s kid,” the resident said.

That is also a huge concern for the Sheriff’s Department who has received calls from other residents that have been hit by stray bullets.

Deputy Barajas added the large crowds that gather are risking serious injury – or worse as they treat taxpayer-owned land like their private sandbox.

“When you congregate 100 or 200 vehicles out there and people start drinking and recklessly because they think because it’s in a desert area they can start firing off firearms not knowing that the residents are nearby that becomes a safety concern for everyone out there,” Deputy Barajas said.

The neighbors also complain about the massive amounts of dust that could cause a health hazard.

The Sheriff’s Department is cracking down on Sunday Fun Day.

They have joined forces with Arizona State Lands, and Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Numbers News 4 Tucson obtained also showed authorities have been involved in pursuits, recovered stolen vehicles and have had more than two dozen deputies involved in operation ‘Desert Silence.’

Deputy Barajas said they went out there addressed the situation by posting signs as regard to the laws of highway vehicle regulations and rules.

They also have heavy enforcement every Sunday.

“If we see that it’s become a hazard we have to tell everybody to leave. They have to abide my our directives and if they do not at that point they can be arrested at that moment,” Deputy Barajas told News 4 Tucson.

The state now pays for off duty deputies to work Sunday Fun Day to bring the situation under control.


Paul Birmingham

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