Lake Christine Fire victims, defendants speak at sentencing Monday |

Lake Christine Fire victims, defendants speak at sentencing Monday

Fire starters get 45 days in jail, 1,500 hours of useful public service, $100,000 of restitution each and five years of probation

Richard Miller, one of the defendants in the Lake Christine Fire case, cries while speaking in Eagle County District Court on Monday.
Chris Dillmann / Vail Daily

The couple convicted of starting the Lake Christine Fire was sentenced Monday after several people who lost their homes or property finally had their say in emotional statements in Eagle County District Court.

Allison Marcus and Richard Miller were sentenced to 45 days in jail, 1,500 hours of useful public service, $100,000 of restitution each and five years of probation.

They received credit for one day served. The public service should be in some way related to the fire, according to Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkelman. Both defendants have applied for work release — meaning they will stay in jail at night and be released for work only during the day. Marcus is seeking to serve her sentence in Pitkin County Jail. Miller will be in Eagle County Jail.

“Ultimately I believe it’s a fair and just sentence,” Dunkelman said. “This sentence checks off everything we look for.”

The checklist includes punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation and accountability. Dunkelman said he realizes some people won’t feel the jail sentence was long enough, but he noted Marcus and Miller are both in their early 20s and haven’t been in trouble with the law before.

“When that cell closes on you, it’s a scary moment,” Dunkelman said.

Miller and Marcus were convicted of setting fire to woods or prairie, which is a misdemeanor. In return, the District Attorney’s Office dropped three charges of felony menacing against each of them.

Miller and Marcus acknowledged in a May 22 hearing they were shooting guns at the Basalt State Wildlife range when the fire broke out. They borrowed a rifle from Miller’s father and Marcus fired it at the range. The rifle was loaded with incendiary tracer ammunition, which was banned at the range.

Marcus and Miller spoke for the first time in brief statements to the court.

“I wish that day would have never happened,” Marcus said.

She said she didn’t realize the rifle was loaded with tracer ammunition. She expressed sorrow for the incident and gratefulness for the firefighters’ efforts.

When addressing the court, Miller took a couple of minutes to gain his composure before saying, “I would like to talk about what happened on July 3 last year.”

He said he also had “no idea” that there were tracer rounds provided with the rifle and that Marcus also was unaware. She was at the rifle range while he was at the shotgun range. She contacted him when the fire broke out and he directed her to call 911.

“I immediately did everything I could to put the fire out myself,” Miller said. “I wish there was more I could have done. But it happened.”

He concluded by saying, “I am sorry.”

The fire burned nearly 12,600 acres, destroyed three homes and had enormous impacts on personal lives and business in the midvalley.

The three couples that lost their homes were among the people who gave emotional statements during the hearing. Kara Williams spoke of how smoke damage affected her family’s home in Missouri Heights while fire destroyed land around it. The fire also destroyed their rental property near El Jebel Mobile Home Park.

She noted thousands of other victims of the fire weren’t able to testify on how they were affected.

“I am able to stand before you today able to tell my story because I’m a victim — I lost a house in the Lake Christine Fire,” Williams said. “But you can multiply my story by thousands. The defendants here in this room today started a fire that traumatized so many local residents in so many different ways. The Williamses, the McCauleys, the Martinezes … we are hardly the only victims in the Lake Christine Fire. Many others similarly suffered.”

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