Vail arson suspect found dead in jail
PHOENIX ” An Arizona bookstore owner charged with eco-sabotage in Washington was found dead in a Flagstaff jail cell early Thursday, authorities said.
William C. Rodgers, 40 ” who also had been called a suspect in the 1998 Vail arson attacks but hadn’t been charged ” committed suicide, according to the Coconino County sheriff’s office.
The county medical examiner determined that Rodgers suffocated after placing a plastic bag over his head while he was being held in a one-person cell.
Rodgers was one of six people arrested this month in connection with ecoterror attacks in Oregon and Washington in recent years. He was charged in the firebombing of a government wildlife lab outside Olympia, Wash.
In an affidavit filed in federal court last week, an FBI agent said Rodgers attended a meeting of Earth Liberation Front members in western Colorado where the Vail attacks were planned.
The Earth Liberation, which claimed responsibility for the fires that destroyed the Two Elk restaurant and other buildings, said the attack was a response to Vail Resorts’ expansion into Blue Sky Basin. The group claimed to be defending rare lynx, which have since been spotted in the Vail area but not in Blue Sky Basin.
Rodgers was supposed to be transported shortly to Seattle to face the charges, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirk Engdall said during a bail hearing Thursday in Eugene, Ore., for another suspect, Chelsea Gerlach, 28.
Engdall said Gerlach, who also has been linked to the Vail arson but not charged, was placed on suicide watch as a result of Rodgers’ death because of her close relationship with Rodgers.
Gerlach’s attorney, public defender Craig Weinerman, denied the close relationship.
Magistrate Thomas Coffin denied Gerlach’s request for bail after Engdall said a search of her apartment in Portland on Wednesday had turned up false identification documents with her picture, and materials to make more.
Coffin said that strongly suggested she might try to flee if released on bail.
Weinerman had argued that she should be released because the government’s case was based on the testimony of two other people who had admitted setting other fires.
Engdall added that she was also a suspect in the Oct. 14, 2001 arson of federal wild horse corrals in Susanville, Calif. No charges have been filed in that case.