Four charged in ’98 Vail Mountain fires | AspenTimes.com
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Four charged in ’98 Vail Mountain fires

J.K. PerryVail correspondent

Four suspects allegedly involved in the 1998 Vail fires were indicted Thursday on charges of conspiracy to commit arson, the U.S. Department of Justice reported Friday.A grand jury in Eugene, Ore., handed down indictments against a group of 11 people known as “the family.” The 65 counts are related to arsons in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.”The indictment tells a story of 4 1/2 years of arson, vandalism, violence and destruction claimed to have been executed on behalf of the Animal Liberation Front or Earth Liberation Front – extremist movements known to support acts of domestic terrorism,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference Friday.The indictment alleges the group used incendiary devices to set fires across the five states, although specific devices used in the Vail fires were not disclosed.Josephine Overaker, Kevin Tubbs, Stanislas Meyerhoff and Chelsea Gerlach were indicted on two charges of conspiracy to commit arson in the Vail fires. William Rodgers, who committed suicide in late December by suffocating himself, was named as a co-conspirator in the Vail fires.The indictment also alleges certain people sent a communiqué on Oct. 21, 1998, attributing the fires to the Earth Liberation Front.The Oct. 19, 1998, Vail fires destroyed or damaged Two Elk Lodge, Ski Patrol Headquarters, Camp I and four chairlifts. Total damage was estimated at $12 million.Two days later, the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the fires, stating the Blue Sky expansion would ruin lynx habitat.Vail Resorts has since rebuilt Two Elk Restaurant, replaced the lifts and opened Blue Sky Basin.Tubbs, Meyerhoff and Gerlach, 28, have been arrested. Overaker, along with two other alleged saboteurs not said to be involved in the Vail fires, are believed to be outside the country, the Department of Justice reported.”We’re working hard with a number of partners to find these individuals and bring them to justice here in the United States,” Gonzales said.Tubbs’ family released a statement saying: “Kevin is a uniquely gentle, loving person who is uncommonly generous to friends and strangers alike. He is not a violent person. He is a stable provider, beloved by all who know him. The picture painted in the media is not our Kevin and we will continue to stand by him through this nightmare.”While the members of the Earth Liberation Front at the time claimed to have struck Vail to protest incursion into potential lynx habitat, it’s tough to find anyone who comprehends the logic behind the group’s action.”Their action was universally condemned by the environmental and the business community,” said Auden Schendler, director of environmental affairs for the Aspen Skiing Co. “There are other ways to make a statement and solve these problems, and you can get pretty radical without doing that kind of damage.”Kent Rose, a former Vail mayor, said the action backfired on the arsonists.”I think everyone was set back by it, but it probably had just as much of a positive effect,” Rose said. “It brought attention to us and created jobs. All they did was cost some insurance company money.”Schendler noted how much things have changed since 1998, when the notion of global warming was largely unheard of.”Now, it’s not that lynx aren’t important, but climate change has become so much bigger an issue since then,” he said. “Bringing attention to the arrests in some ways brings attention to how priorities have changed, and how our collective understanding of environmental issues has shifted since 1998.”


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