updated 3/28/2006 6:25:05 PM ET 2006-03-28T23:25:05

If not for their wrong turn in the mountains of southern Oregon, the case of Elbert and Becky Higginbotham might well have lingered in an in-basket of the cash-strapped office of the sheriff of Navajo County, Ariz.

Eleven months ago, they’d been caught with a small amount of methamphetamine and a shotgun, deputies said, but they agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Then they disappeared. They turned up in a big way last Tuesday, momentary national celebrities when they were rescued with four relatives from a snowbound motor home in Oregon’s Coast Range. Lost and stuck in the snow, the six had been missing for more than two weeks.

Now Elbert and Becky Higginbotham have vanished again — with warrants out for their arrest.

Back to the wild
The Higginbothams were reported Monday by relatives to be heading back to Navajo County on their own, in the same motor home that had been retrieved from the mountains.

Navajo County Sheriff Gary Butler said his deputies caught the couple, house-sitting for someone else, with a small amount of methamphetamine last April and gained their promise to help in an investigation.

“But when we went back to talk to them, they were gone,” Butler said.

He said deputies didn’t know the couple’s whereabouts until last week.

That was when one of his drug investigators heard the snowbound story and remembered a long-standing complaint that the department had filed with the county prosecutor. It had finally resulted in charges against the Higginbothams, coincidentally, a few weeks earlier, Butler said.

The couple were charged with possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Elbert Higginbotham is also wanted on a charge of misconduct involving weapons.

Elbert Higginbothams’ mother, Mary, has said Elbert, 54, and Becky, 44, set out from Arizona in February. They traveled to Ashland, home of Becky Higginbotham’s son, Peter Stivers, his wife and their two children.

The six set out for the Oregon coast in Higginbotham’s motor home on March 4, were reported missing and were rescued last Tuesday, making the national news.

Arrest warrant issued
A day later, Butler’s department issued a warrant for the arrest of the Higginbothams. Even then it wasn’t certain his department would pay to get the Higginbothams returned to Arizona, since Butler said the case would result in “probably probation, to be honest with you.”

Over the weekend, however, Butler talked with his counterpart in Jackson County, Ore. The two sheriffs worked out a travel plan for the Higginbothams that would allow Arizona authorities to save some money by picking them up in Utah.

Sheriff Mike Winters of Jackson County said he was glad he had negotiated a deal with Butler.

“If that wouldn’t have worked out, I would have driven them to Arizona myself,” he said.

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