An unemployed tribal firefighter took responsibility for his actions and pleaded guilty to starting the Rodeo part of the devastating Rodeo-Chediski fire of 2002. He said he started the fire hoping to get work.
A woman, illegally in a forest that was closed due to fire danger, claimed to be a victim when she started the other part of the fire because she was lost and needed to signal for help.
The former White Mountain Apache firefighter, Leonard Gregg, has now been sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $28 million in restitution -- to be paid with monthly installments of $100 after he has finished his prison term.
The woman, Valinda Jo Elliott, is on the streets, and will be enjoying a free life for the next 10 years while Gregg is behind bars.
Where's the justice?
Elliott was never charged with anything -- there was no criminal intent, according to those who would have prosecuted her. Surely that level of carelessness is criminal. Don't we live in a state where those who drive into flooded washes and require rescue are charged with a crime and forced to pay a penalty?
The worst fire in Arizona history should be grounds for charges at least as severe as those for driving into a flooded wash.
But apparently not -- at least not for Valinda Jo Elliott. However, it was more than enough for Leonard Gregg.
"Your crime is one that has not only the innumerable victims of today, but your crime will have generations of victims," U.S. District Court Judge James Teilborg told Gregg. He also called it the "crime of the century in Arizona."
Gregg took responsibility and now he is paying a monumental price. Elliott claimed to be a victim and turned her back on any responsibility.
Lost or not, she was in the forest illegally and started a fire when warnings were posted and aired continuously about the hazards of doing so. She should be made as accountable as Gregg.
Her actions are equal to his in their result. Their punishments should have some semblance of equality as well.