Sheriff denies Lake Christine Fire starter’s Pitkin County Jail request
The 23-year-old woman who started the Lake Christine Fire last summer will not be allowed to serve her 45-day jail sentence in Pitkin County, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Thursday.
“Overwhelmingly, I think the 18,000 people of Pitkin County wouldn’t want me to accept this sentence so it would be convenient for her,” DiSalvo said. “She should serve her time where she committed her crime.”
Allison Marcus and her boyfriend, Richard Miller, 24, were at the Basalt shooting range July 3, 2018, when Marcus began firing a rifle loaded with tracer ammunition at the rifle range, while Miller fired a shotgun at the nearby shotgun range. The tracer ammunition ignited the nearby hillside and sparked the Lake Christine Fire that later charred more than 12,500 acres, destroyed three homes and led to the evacuation of thousands of midvalley residents.
The couple pleaded guilty in May to a misdemeanor charge of setting fire to woods or prairie. In return for a sentence of 45 days in jail, 1,500 hours of community service, $100,000 in restitution and five years probation each, the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office agreed to dismiss three counts of felony arson and one count of felony setting fire to woods or prairie.
Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkelman affirmed the sentence outlined in the plea bargain last week and approved work release for Miller and Marcus. That means they can leave jail during the day to work during their sentences, but must report back after work.
Miller reported to the Eagle County Jail on July 9, as ordered by Dunkelman. The judge gave Marcus until today to report to jail because she was attempting to receive permission from the Pitkin County Jail to serve her sentence there.
At the hearing last week, Marcus’ attorney Stan Garnett said Marcus’ job is in Aspen. He previously said she was pursuing a career as a chef.
“If she can serve her sentence in Pitkin County, she can have her work release work so it will not have an impact on her ability to have a job,” Garnett said. “It’s important to be able to do that because to pay off $100,000 in restitution over five years, she needs to have a good job, keep that job and get promoted as much as she can. This is a good opportunity for her.”
Dunkelman noted that he could not order Pitkin County to allow Marcus to serve her sentence in Aspen.
On Thursday, DiSalvo gave two reasons for denying Marcus’ request.
First, the jail does not have separate facilities for men and women on work release, he said. As a result, work release for men and women alternates every 90 days. It will take about two weeks to clear Marcus to enter the Pitkin County Jail, which wouldn’t leave enough time for her to serve the 45 days before the men’s work release cycle begins Aug. 31, DiSalvo said.
However, even if the work release schedules matched up, DiSalvo said he would have denied Marcus’ request anyway.
“I’m sorry if this is an inconvenience for her, but I can’t help think of Billy McCauley, who I know, and Cleve Williams, who I know, and how inconvenienced this community was a year ago,” he said. “I just don’t think a break is warranted here.”
The McCauley and Williams families accounted for two of the three lost homes in the Lake Christine Fire.
DiSalvo said he took two days to make the decision and consulted jail officials, the Eagle County District Attorney’s Office and county residents before coming to a conclusion.
“I haven’t found anybody who supports this idea,” he said.
Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Chief Scott Thompson said Thursday he stands behind DiSalvo’s decision.
“Why should the community that was terrified as a direct result of what happened accept her into the jail to make it convenient for her?” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me.
“We were all inconvenienced (last summer). I had to move out of my house. I think (serving her sentence in Eagle County) is part of her punishment. It’s not supposed to be easy.”
Garnett, Marcus’ lawyer, declined to comment on the situation Thursday.
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