Another suspect named in Two Elk fire
VAIL – An Arizona bookstore owner is the latest suspect linked by federal officials to the 1998 arson attacks on Vail Mountain. In Flagstaff, Ariz., FBI Special Agent Doug Linter testified in U.S. District Court that investigators suspect Prescott, Ariz., bookstore owner William C. Rodgers in the fire that destroyed the Two Elk restaurant, chairlifts and other buildings. Earlier this week, prosecutors linked a Portland, Ore., woman, Chelsea D. Gerlach, to the arson. The Earth Liberation Front, which claimed responsibility for the fires, said the attack was a protest of what the group said was a threat to rare lynx by Vail Mountain’s expansion into Blue Sky Basin. “By golly, I didn’t think they’d every find them. It was quite a tragedy for us, but I’m not sure if it’s them,” said longtime valley resident Alan Nottingham. “I supported (the expansion). I really don’t think it affected the lynx habitat.”Both Rodgers and Gerlach are already in custody, facing charges in other “ecoterror” attacks. Rodgers is also a suspect in arson attacks against wild horse corrals in Burns, Ore., and Rock Springs, Wyo.; the University of Washington Urban Horticultural Center in Seattle and a federal plant research lab in Olympia, Wash., Linter said. “I feel some gratification that they’re in custody and that police continue to pursue this,” said Ron Riley, a longtime resident and business owner. “I know it never got off the radar, and I know they didn’t have a lot to work with or clearly something would have happened before this.”Rodgers was arrested last week on charges alleging he was involved in the firebombing of a government wildlife lab outside Olympia, Wash.
In the first physical evidence disclosed in the case, the inventory of a six-hour search of Rodgers’ residence and bookstore listed boxes of suspected bomb-making materials such as timers and re-lighting birthday candles and three guns. Police also found two digital photos of nude, prepubescent girls stored on a compact disc.Linter also reported a recorded conversation where Rodgers told an unknown acquaintance that he was “planning something big” involving some kind of arson after the end of his relationship with his girlfriend, Katie Nelson.In Eugene, Ore., a federal grand jury handed up new indictments against Gerlach and Kevin M. Tubbs, 36, of Springfield, Ore.Gerlach was indicted on charges alleging she served as a lookout in the firebombing of Childers Meat Co. in Eugene in 1999, and helped two other people set fires at Jefferson Poplar Farms, in Clatskanie, Ore., in 2001.Tubbs was indicted on arson charges alleging he helped firebomb Romania Truck Chevrolet in Eugene, Ore., on March 30, 2001, destroying 35 sport utility vehicles and causing $1 million in damages. If convicted, he could face life in prison.”We intend to continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute ecoterrorism here in Oregon,” U.S. Attorney Karin J. Immergut said Friday in a statement released in Portland, Ore. “This case demonstrates how effective collaborative law enforcement efforts are in combating ecoterrorism.”Tubbs and Gerlach were scheduled to be arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., on the new indictments. Stanislas Meyerhoff, 28, of Charlottesville, Va., who attended high school in Eugene with Gerlach and was indicted earlier in the tree farm firebombing and two other cases, was to appear for a status hearing.
Gerlach was held in Eugene on an indictment she helped topple a Bonneville Power Administration electrical transmission tower Dec. 30, 1999.”I don’t know if this means anything other than it confirms suspicions that it was a collaborative effort,” said Jim LaMont, executive director of the Vail Village Homeowners Association. “It may give us some insight into what may or may not happen and what their motives were.” Riley advised against drawing conclusions about the suspects until they’re convicted.”But if they’re successfully prosecuted, it will give us a lot more information about the people who committed the arson, and that fills in some of the blanks,” Riley said. “I figure it’s someone who has environmental issues I mean huge, but that pursuit and the successful prosecution, well it won’t be like closure, but it’ll be helpful.”Packy Walker, owner and general manager of the Lifthouse Condominiums, said the evidence is all too circumstantial to draw conclusions about what he called an “idiotic” crime. “It’s a bunch of wackos up there starting fires, and we needed to cut down even more trees to rebuild that building,” Walker said. “I hope they catch them. And if they’re guys, I think they should take their pants off, nail their testicles to a tree and push them down backwards. If they’re tree huggers, then that’s what they should do with them.”Federal defender Craig Weinerman, representing Gerlach, complained that authorities were accusing her of other firebombings without presenting any evidence, other than statements from unnamed informants facing possible prison terms for their own involvement. “Someone is pointing the finger at her who was far more involved in this, and potentially has a motive to help himself or herself get less time,” Weinerman said.
Gerlach’s family issued a statement saying she had never been to Colorado, where the ski resort was firebombed, or spent enough time there to care about plans to expand the ski area into habitat for the endangered lynx, the reason cited by Earth Liberation Front in taking credit for the 1998 fire. The letter to the Vail Daily signed by Gerlach’s sister, Shasta Kearns Moore, said Gerlach was concerned about the environment, but believed only in peaceful action. “As a family we are both disturbed and baffled by the charges brought against her,” the statement read. “The person we know and love is incapable of such acts.”Also on Friday, a Canadian animal-rights militant who was arrested with Gerlach pleaded not guilty in federal court in Portland to immigration charges.The Associated Press contributed to this report.Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado