Lake Christine Fire defendants serving useful public service at Basalt-area food bank, church, conservation group

The couple convicted of starting the Lake Christine Fire in July 2018 are volunteering at a food bank, a church and a conservation organization to work off the 1,500 hours of useful public service that were part of their sentence.

Richard Miller and Allison Marcus, both 24, made arrangements with the 5th Judicial District probation office to volunteer for the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy, the regional food bank Lift Up and Cornerstone Community Church in the El Jebel area.

Miller explored the idea of becoming a volunteer firefighter to work off his community service, but the idea fizzled for unknown reasons, according to documents from the probation office obtained by The Aspen Times in a Colorado open records request.

Miller and Marcus reached a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office where they pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of setting fire to woods or prairie. In return, three felony charges of arson against each of them were dismissed.

Richard Miller explored the idea of becoming a volunteer firefighter to work off his community service, but the idea fizzled for unknown reasons.

They were sentenced on July 1 to 45 days in jail, $100,000 each in restitution, five years of probation and 1,500 hours of useful public service.

Victims of the fire — those who had their homes burned down or threatened — said at the sentencing hearing that Miller and Marcus should be assigned public service that was related to the recovery from the fire, such as planting trees in the burn scar.

Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkelman said at the July 1 hearing he agreed that the community service should be “related in some form to this fire.” He left it to the probation office to work out the details.

“Really what I’m saying is it’s not going to be going to the animal shelter,” Dunkelman said. “Those are good things to do but they’re not what we’re going to do in this case.”

The useful public service sheets for Miller and Marcus note, “Community service to be related to some form of impact from this fire and/or the impact related to the nature of this incident.”

They must complete the 1,500 hours by June 1, 2024.

A follow-up email from the probation officer to Miller dated July 16 indicated he was looking into the idea of getting firefighter training and volunteering with a department. There is no record of why the idea didn’t fly.

“Some thoughts that I had were Basalt Fire Department, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, Aspen Fire Department, Snowmass Fire Department, Roaring Fork Conservancy, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Crown Mountain Park, Salvation Army, any of the churches that set up donation sites or housed and feed (sic) displaced residents, Aspen Sopris Ranger District,” the probation officer wrote.

The probation office provided an email Wednesday to show what type of service had been approved.

“Mr. Miller has been working on a consistent UPS schedule with Lift Up (an agency that provided a food bank to the community during the fire), Cornerstone Church (the probation officer is working on verifying in what capacity they assisted the community) and the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers (an agency that has helped with reseeding efforts in the area),” the email said.

“(Miller) has committed to continuing to look for opportunities to volunteer that are relevant to the court orders,” the email continued. “These opportunities may be limited during the winter season. Efforts to reseed and plant trees are being planned for the spring 2020.”

Information provided by the probation office was nearly identical regarding Marcus’s public service, though it noted that Cornerstone Church “provided foods/meals at Basalt Elementary School for evacuees” during the Lake Christine Fire.

The probation office didn’t respond to a request from The Aspen Times on how volunteer time at Lift Up or the church complied with the judge’s mandate that the public service be related to the fire.

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers has undertaken work related to the fire recovery. It organized a community volunteer day in June where areas of the burn scar were reseeded by hand. The organization plans additional work in the future.

Officials from Lift Up and Cornerstone Community Church couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon about the nature of the volunteer work by Miller and Marcus.

Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown didn’t return messages via voicemail or email Wednesday regarding the propriety of the useful public service being pursued by Miller and Marcus.

Cleve Williams, a firefighter who lost his house in the Lake Christine Fire, said it was unclear to him how the public service with Lift Up and the church complied with the judge’s order.

He noted that Basalt Mountain experienced a thistle outbreak after the fire. Invasive weeds often proliferate in a burn area. Perhaps Miller and Marcus could volunteer to eradicate the thistle, Williams said.

(Editor’s note: This story was corrected to show Bruce Brown is the Fifth Judicial District Attorney.)