Liar, Liar, Colorado is on Fire
Mark T. Moore
anyone remember O.J. Simpson saying that he would not rest until
he found the person who murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson,
and her friend, Ronald Goldman? Of course you do, we all do, but
now that O.J. is mostly out of the limelight playing golf, nobody
much cares anymore, except for the victims families. While
O.J. is not at it again, U.S. Forest Service Ranger Terry Barton
apparently thought she could benefit from an O.J. style subterfuge.
Thankfully, she did not succeed. If she had, someone else may have
paid for her crimes, in addition to the 25 families who have already
lost their homes to the fire she started.
June 8, Barton was praised for reporting the start of what is now
the largest wildfire in Colorado history, while on patrol, enforcing
a ban on open fires. She provided a license plate number and a description
of a gold minivan that she saw leaving the scene when she "arrived"
to investigate. Later, the Associated Press reported, Barton
stated she would not rest until someone was arrested for starting
the fire. Unlike O.J., she can at least now sleep comfortably (behind
June 16, Barton confessed to starting the blaze after overwhelming
evidence was presented which showed that her original report about
the fire was impossible. Her new statement, and confession, is that
she set a letter from her estranged husband on fire in an established
fire circle, waited until she thought that it was out, drove away,
and then returned after she noticed smoke rising from the area which
she had just departed. She was unable to put out the fire and at
that point she called it in to her superiors. Investigators now
believe that she is lying about this account as well. They say that
the fire appears to have been deliberately set outside of the established
fire ring and made to look like an accident.
Barton sleeps, what about the rest of us who are often forced to
rely on government employees for our safety? What is particularly
scary, but not necessarily surprising, about this episode, is not
that Barton didnt fess up right away and take responsibility
for her mistake, if it was indeed a mistake, but that she actively
tried to pass the blame on to an innocent minivan driver. The driver
was located, questioned and later deemed to be only a concerned
citizen investigating the source of smoke in the area.
other government employees been as careless or abusive of their
positions as Barton was, the situation could have been much worse.
Bartons attempt to divert attention from herself could have
resulted in the minivan driver going to jail, like the A-Team of
TVs yesteryear, for a crime he did not commit. Bartons
actions highlight the fact that government employees are just people.
And like the criminals they are supposed to police, government employees
are subject to temptations to which they, too, may succumb.
to the Rocky Mountain News, Barton joins a number of other
government employees who have been charged with starting wildfires.
The motives behind these fires range from wanting to get paid overtime
or hazardous pay for fighting the very fire they started, to just
having an arsonists desire to see things burn. Only time will
tell if Bartons true motives come to light.
far Barton has been charged with four felonies which, if convicted
of all four, would bring her up to 65 years in prison and up to
$1 million in fines. While Barton may or may not have purposely
started the fire, she clearly intended to pin the blame on someone
else in her initial report to investigators. To date, that has not
been addressed in the criminal complaint against Barton, which is
either a great oversight or a flaw in the system.
criminal complaint does not cite Barton for breaking her oath as
a federal employee to "well and faithfully discharge the duties"
with which she was entrusted. When a government employee abuses
the public trust in such an egregious fashion, breaking that oath
should be a punishable offense, similar to the militarys dereliction
of duty charge. Government employees must be held accountable for
breaking their oath or the oath is meaningless and the public trust
is further eroded.
now, the government is charging Barton as if, at the time she committed
the crimes, she was acting as a private citizen, which is not the
case. Barton was in uniform, on patrol, and was entrusted with the
power to stop people from doing the very thing that she did. Her
job was to prevent forest fires. Her actions could very well have
sent an innocent person to jail.
government employees, when acting in their official capacity, must
be held to the highest of standards, and in the case of Terry Barton,
punished accordingly when they abuse their positions. It would be
unconscionable to malign all government employees for this rangers
actions. Nonetheless, her behavior begs the question: How many other
Terry Bartons are out there?
T. Moore holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics & Environmental
Studies from the University of California Santa Barbara and is currently
pursuing a Juris Doctor & Master of Public Policy degree at Pepperdine
June 20, 2002]
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