by Scott Edson, Hamilton
From ashes 7/31/16 to Legal Plea Deal 8/28/17 thru the Cracks, & Gone to the Wind. Regarding M. McConnaha’s Missoulian article of 8/29/17 “Roaring Lion Fire Case: Defendants, prosecutor reach plea agreement”
A review of the facts for the regulatory authorities and legal beagles is justified. First though, the initial outpouring of Bitterroot Valley-wide assistance was amazing; the kindness was overwhelmingly heartfelt and immensely appreciated!
Thirteen months after the devastating Roaring Lion Fire destroyed 16 homes and cost over $11 million to fight, three of the young men received deferred sentences in Ravalli County District Court. The three agreed (8/28/17) to pay 10 percent of their income, each year, for five years, and to perform 100 hours of volunteer community service with the Forest Service each of three years. If they completed those plea deal conditions, the charge of felony and misdemeanor negligent arson will be dropped.
The sentencing hearing brought about a Legal Plea Deal, in which Judge Langton pronounced he would have no role in the agreement (sentencing) due to legislative changes in 2015. “The decision is at the sole discretion of the prosecuting attorney,” said Langton. Fulbright said, “The Forest Service would determine their volunteer work.” Several strong objections were offered regarding the designated volunteer work; and suggestion lists were provided.
Nine of the 16 homeowners were in the Judd Hollow area. Most of the nine have relocated. However, a couple would like some follow through, i.e. a follow up letter from Darby District Ranger, Eric Winthers, indicating that the community service had been finished, and what was accomplished. Also, an annual accounting of the 10% of their income, held by Fulbright, needs disclosing, and delivered proportionately to the land owners, at the time of the fire, or their share distributed to their chosen entity!
Time passes, as does the Bitterroot Valley’s memory, but this should not be the case for our county’s Prosecuting Attorney! There should be follow through; an upholding of the law. I have been more than patient, delivering letters, requesting in-person meetings, answers to emails, answers to various letters: 7/25/18; 11/20/20; 11/24/20; 12/8/20; 12/11/20; and 12/29/20, respectively. Waiting for answers to my requests! Losing 5+ years of life… is too soon forgotten!
You, Mr. Fulbright, are negligent of follow through. You stated, “I’d rather see something that is a reminder of why you don’t do this.” The Salvation Army was the most helpful of the various organizations providing assistance. Number one of one of the provided lists of Suggested Public Services should have bene applied! You, Mr. Fulbright, held, and have dropped, the ball! Tax-paying, law-abiding citizens would appreciate your obligated/elected position, professional ethics, follow through!