Valinda Jo Elliott may be the most despised woman in the White Mountains.
And with good reason.
If there ever was an argument for a criminal stupidity law, this is it.
June 18, Elliott and her employer, Ransford Olmsted, became lost while trying to reach Young. Olmsted has said he was attempting to dodge the Rodeo Fire and became lost after making a series of wrong turns.
The Rodeo Fire. The hapless duo must have at least had a brief discussion of the fire as they drove down closed forest roads before running out of gas.
The Rodeo Fire must have been on their minds as they spent their first night stranded in the Ponderosa pines.
The Rodeo Fire must have been clearly visible the second day, as Elliott left the truck to climb Chediski Peak, attempting to get a signal for her cell phone.
And yet, with that already monstrous blaze burning to the east, Elliott could think of no other option than to start her own fire to signal a passing news helicopter a fire that later (soon) exploded into the Chediski Fire.
U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton announced to an angry Heber/Overgaard crowd that he was not going to file criminal charges that Elliott showed no criminal intent in starting her portion of the largest wildfire in Arizona history. Charlton said there was no chance a jury would convict Elliott of arson.
We agree. Elliott showed no criminal intent.
What she did show was criminal stupidity. A total lack of common sense. And with Charlton's decision, she'll get off scot-free.
Today, the White Mountain Apaches whose land Elliott was trespassing on when she started the fire are deciding what charges they'll bring against her. We hope their sense of justice and accountability is a little more appropriate than that of the U.S. Attorney's Office.