Victim of Lake Christine Fire has mixed view of sentence for fire starters
The Basalt firefighter who lost his home in the Lake Christine fire in July 2018 said Thursday he has mixed emotions about the sentence facing the couple who started the blaze.
Cleve Williams said he isn’t sure the jail time was necessary and that total restitution of $200,000 is too little to do any good for the three families who lost their homes.
“I don’t know how to feel about it,” Williams said while taking a break from working on his new home in Missouri Heights.
Richard Miller, 24, and Allison Marcus, 23, each pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of setting fire to woods or prairie. In return, the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s office dropped three charges of felony arson.
The plea agreement calls for Miller and Marcus to spend 45 days in Eagle County Jail, perform 1,500 hours of community service, be on probation for five years and each pay $100,000 in restitution.
They will be formally sentenced in Eagle County District Court on July 1. Judge Paul Dunkelman said he would give the victims who lost their homes an opportunity to speak at the sentencing hearing.
Williams said he will likely speak, though he hasn’t determined yet what he will say.
“I know they did wrong but I don’t know what 45 days in jail will do,” Williams said. Taxpayers will just be footing the bill to house them for that period, he noted.
Regardless of the sentence, they won’t be able to pay his family or the other victims back for their loss of property, possessions and time spent dealing with the disaster, he said.
“It’s two years of my life that they’ve taken,” he said.
Dividing the restitution three ways yields $66,666 per household. Williams said the amount barely covers the land use and building permits he has to acquire from Eagle County to rebuild his house and a barn.
In addition to the three families that lost their homes, there was at least one family renting one of the houses that lost all of their possessions.
There were also indirect victims, such as Basalt and El Jebel business owners who lost revenues on one of the busiest weeks of the summer.
The firefighting costs exceeded $20 million.
The Big Picture
In the big picture, Williams said he is uncertain what effect the sentence will have on Marcus and Miller. He noted that Miller skied outside the Aspen Highlands ski area boundary last winter and had to be rescued by Mountain Rescue Aspen.
“I don’t know about the girl,” Williams said. “The guy is going to be a drain on society.”
Cleve and Kerry Williams’ house was reduced to rubble by the fire the night of July 4. They are in the process of rebuilding.
Williams was on the first engine that responded to the fire that broke out at the Basalt shooting range on July 3.
The following day, he was using his bulldozer to go over rough roads between El Jebel and Lake Christine to create firebreaks and make the routes accessible for firefighters.
When roaring winds turned the fire toward El Jebel and the eastern edge of Missouri Heights the night of July 4, Williams was among the fire crews with engines protecting the Valley Hi neighborhood. He and fellow firefighters battled to save his fire-resistant house, which had a metal roof and stucco siding.
“We got run out of my yard three or four times,” he told The Aspen Times in a July 6 interview. “It was my house. I didn’t want to leave.”
They eventually succumbed and moved to save neighboring houses.
Cleve’s brother and sister-in-law, Quent and Kara Williams, were owners of one of the homes destroyed in El Jebel. Kara Williams said this week she plans to speak at the July 1 hearing. Bill and Andee McCauley lost the third house.
Reporter Scott Condon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.