Oregon

No decision in restitution hearing for Eagle Creek Fire teen

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- No decision was reached Thursday during the restitution hearing for the Vancouver teen who pleaded guilty for his part in starting the explosive Eagle Creek Fire.

The teen -- who wasn't present during the hearing -- started the fire in the Columbia River Gorge by tossing a lit firecracker into the woods. He pleaded guilty in February to eight counts of reckless burning of public and private property and other charges. District Judge John Olson sentenced the teen to almost 2,000 hours of community service and five years of probation, which is the highest punishment the teen could have received under state law for his crime.

However, after hearing arguments questioning the constitutionality of making the teen pay the full amount, Judge Olson decided he wouldn't make a decision Thursday.

Based on 11 different claims submitted from different agencies and companies, the full amount was determined to be more than $36 million. But, the teen's attorney said that amount was absurd.

During the hearing, defense attorney Jack Morris said it would be impossible for the teen to pay back those millions and millions of dollars lost from the Eagle Creek Fire, which is why he challenged a statute that requires a person to pay full restitution.

Morris asked Judge Olson for a rational amount to be imposed, adding that the current restitution was cruel and unusual.

However, people affected by the fire didn't agree with the defense attorney. KOIN 6 News talked to one man who had to put down his treasured horse due to the blaze.

"We had that horse for a very long time," Paul Smith, who was evacuated because of the fire, said. "I'm not here for financial restitution. I just want to look him in the eye and let him know because of his reckless, careless, avoidable actions, this wouldn't have happened."

The prosecution fought back during the hearing -- arguing that the law isn't as harsh as the defense is trying to make it out to be. They said, for instance, after 10 years, the teen could be discharged from paying if he stays out of trouble and sticks to a payment plan. However, that would be up to a future judge to decide -- 10 years from now.

Judge Olson said he needed more time to think before making a decision, but said he'll be making one as early as Friday, or possibly next week.

The teen submitted a written letter of apology at the sentencing, which said, in part:

"I want to express how sorry I am for what I did. I know a lot of people suffered because of a bad decision that I made. I'm sorry to the first responders who risked their lives to put out the fires, I am sorry to the hikers who were trapped, I am sorry to the people who worried about their safety and their homes that day, and for weeks afterwards. I am truly sorry about the loss of nature tht occurred because of my careless action. Every day I think about this terrible decision and its awful consequences. Every time I hear people talk about the fire, I put myself down. I know I will have to live with this bad decision for the rest of my life... ...I know I have to earn your forgiveness and I will work hard to do so and one day, I hope I will. ... I apologize with all my heart to everyone in the Gorge."

The Eagle Creek Fire started on Sept. 2 and burned more than 50,000 acres before it was contained. The fire forced hundreds of people from their homes and sent ash raining down on Portland for days.


More Stories

Meet the Team

  • The KOIN 6 News Team
    Copyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Don't Miss

  • KOIN transmission info
    Copyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

    KOIN transmission info

    KOIN 6 is changing transmission frequencies on June 1, 2018

    Read More »
  • Where We Live
    Copyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

    Where We Live

    Each week, KOIN 6 News anchor Ken Boddie highlights an interesting piece of information about Where We Live

    Read More »
  • KOIN 6 Mobile devices
    Copyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

    KOIN 6 Mobile devices

    Any device. Anywhere. One address: KOIN.com

    Read More »

Latest News - Local

Video Center