Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Ol’ Larry Del Gerbaz, you’re in big trouble now. The forces of vindictiveness and aberrational legal thinking (to definitely be confused with social engineering) are striving to bring you down.
In case you forgot who Larry Gerbaz is, he’s the guy recently charged with two counts of fourth-degree arson and whose ranch is the suspected source of the County Road 100 fire on April 15. According to press reports, the fire took out brush and other debris on 1,000 acres of undeveloped land and threatened several homes in downvalley subdivisions. One unfortunate fisherman, Larry Garfinkel, was forced to lie in a small creek while the flames raced over him and sustained burns on his head and left arm.
It wasn’t a secret where the fire started, not from what we can glean from the news media. According to a press release issued April 19, “The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office investigated the incident of the fire and has determined that the Carbondale County Road 100 fire was not the result of arson or a malicious act.”
That was about the only rational statement surrounding this wildfire. At least one editorial and numerous comments by authorities, including Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach, made allusions to the fact that this isn’t the “Wild West” anymore, whatever that is supposed to mean. About the only “Wild West” action going on here is at the hands of apparently ruthless neighbors and easily influenced prosecutors, who have come riding, lickety-split, across the legal landscape, looking for the nearest tree from which to dangle Gerbaz.
Never mind that as Assistant DA Jeff Cheney piddles down his pant leg in anticipation of a possible notch in his prosecutorial belt, he also is forced to admit that there is no legal precedent in Colorado for the vacuous charges he is making against Gerbaz. It’s trivial, to be sure, but one can’t let the rule of law get in the way when asking for someone’s head. It seems we’re only one small step removed from the Salem witch trials.
The spirit of “Wild West” Judge Roy Bean, who made the rules as he went, has reportedly been spotted circling the Garfield County courthouse, wondering if it’d make more sense to set up shop just inside the gray edifice or if he should take the next train to Carbondale and get a good law office set up midvalley. Figures he could make a killing (pun intended) in a valley where even the DA’s office isn’t held to any standards.
Meanwhile, in Aspen, failure to properly extinguish a cigarette left 17 people ” living in 10 separate apartments ” homeless. According to Aspen Fire Marshal Ed Van Walraven, someone (we know who) left a smoldering butt on a balcony, and it eventually erupted into flames. Van Walraven said ” and this is important ” “There will be no criminal charges, and the case is closed.”
Careless cigarette smokers get away with being sorry, but ranchers who burn according to the rules are prosecutable criminals. Apparently (thank God!) the DA’s office can’t ride roughshod over Van Walraven as they appear to have done with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.
It is not required that landowners obtain burn permits when burning on private property, and if it was, one has to wonder how that would translate into determining fact from fiction in the County Road 100 fire anyway. Maybe we should be getting our ducks in a row before the next wildfire screws up the place and adopt some regulations that are relevant. Or continue the status quo: Embrace the gunslingers of the “new West” at the DA’s office, shoot with a shotgun and hope something gets in your way.
The smart money has assistant DA Cheney writing briefs from the unemployment office, while in his off-time he looks for spare parts to fix the scales of justice he so horribly abused.
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