Couple convicted of 2018 Lake Christine Fire chip away at public service, restitution
One year after being sentenced for starting the destructive Lake Christine Fire, Richard Miller and Allison Marcus are making progress completing their punishment, according to the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Miller and Marcus each were sentenced June 30, 2019, to 45 days in jail, 1,500 hours of useful public service, $100,000 in restitution and five years of probation.
Through the end of last week, Miller had completed 824 hours of useful public service while Marcus had finished 437 hours, according to Heidi McCollum, an assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case. McCollum said this week she received an update from the probation office.
In addition, Miller has paid nearly $26,000 in restitution as of last week while Marcus had paid about $17,000. If the restitution isn’t paid in full by the time their five years of supervised probation is drawing to a close, the DA’s Office could seek extension of probation, McCollum said.
McCollum is likely to be the next 5th Judicial District Attorney after serving as an assistant. She won the Democratic primary against the only other candidate. The Repubulican party didn’t field a candidate in the race though it’s possible a Republican or independent could mount a write-in campaign for the November election.
Marcus’ attorney, Stan Garnett, said Wednesday his client is working at a couple of restaurants in the Roaring Fork Valley and remained employed during the coronavirus outbreak and resulting economic downturn.
“I think what both the restitution number and the community service number reflects is that she’s making a very good faith effort to comply with the court order following the disposition of the case last year, which doesn’t surprise me,” Garnett said. “I know her very well and she really wants to handle herself responsibly and make sure the community knows she understands how serious this whole situation was.”
Efforts to reach Miller for comment through his attorney were unsuccessful.
McCollum said Marcus and Miller have been volunteering at a food bank, a church group and a conservation nonprofit organization.
“They have both been working at Lift-Up, CornerStone and Roaring Fork Outdoor volunteers,” McCollum said in an email. “Each of these organizations provided community support during the fire.”
Lift-Up plays a key role in the region providing food for families and individuals in need. It provided services during the evacuations caused by the Lake Christine Fire that started on July 3, 2018. CornerStone Community Church also provided relief services.
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers harnesses labor for the benefit of public lands. It organized a fire scar restoration project on lower slopes of Basalt Mountain last summer. The one-day event attracted hundreds of volunteers. Miller and Marcus weren’t far enough along in the public service process last year to participate in the restoration day.
They will participate in another, scaled-back workday July 25. RFOV plans another workday on Basalt Mountain to prevent the spread of invasive weeds, slow erosion and remove old fencing destroyed by the fire. The number of participants will be capped to adhere to limits on gatherings and social distancing due to the COVID-19 threat.
Miller, 25, and Marcus, 24, agreed to a disposition where they pleaded guilty to setting fire to woods or prairie, a class two misdemeanor. Three charges of felony arson were dismissed by the DA’s Office.
Miller and Marcus were target shooting at the Basalt shooting range and started the blaze after Marcus fired tracer rounds. They said they didn’t know the ammunition, borrowed from Miller’s father, included tracers.
The arson charges stemmed from the fire destroying three homes in El Jebel and Missouri Heights. In addition, the fire forced thousands of people to flee their homes, ravaged the midvalley economy at a busy time and burned more than 12,500 acres of public and private land. The federal government spent an estimated $30 million on the firefighting effort, according to McCollum.
At the time of the fire, Miller, then 23 and Marcus, then 22, fulfilled their 45-day term at Eagle County Jail shortly after sentencing.
McCollum said the 1,500 hours of useful public service was one of the highest amounts the DA’s Office has negotiated in a plea disposition.
“At the end of the day, communities don’t just need defendants to be punished,” McCollum told The Aspen Times last week. “Communities need to be able to heal. These two individuals are paying their debt to society. They are doing what the courts told them to do.”
When asked if he had concerns about his client being able to fulfill the terms of her sentence, Garnett said, “It’s no small thing for someone in their mid-20s to have this kind of obligation. So yeah, I do worry about her ability to actually meet the specific requirements, but her performance during the first year and the seriousness in which she takes these obligations are very encouraging to me and my expectation is she will complete them and the court will conclude she has complied with the court order.”