Kyle Lee Zimmerman and Christopher Erwin Clark Plead Guilty in U.S. Federal Cour
The United States Attorney's Office announced that during a federal court session in Missoula, on November 16, 2010, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah C. Lynch, KYLE LEE ZIMMERMAN, age 23, and CHRISTOPHER ERWIN CLARK, age 26, residents of Dillon, pled guilty to damage to government property. Sentencing has been set for January 5, 2011. They are currently released on special conditions.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Racicot, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
On October 17, 2009, ZIMMERMAN, CLARK, and "S.K." lit and attempted to light trees on fire in the Black Mountain area of the Dillon Ranger District in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The trees were dead or dying due to pine beetle infestation.
On October 18, 2009, ZIMMERMAN and CLARK lit trees on fire in the Birch Creek area of the Dillon Ranger District in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
The officers who investigated the fires observed and preserved somewhat distinctive tire tracks from the Birch Creek area as well as a metal decal from a "Tuff Country" vehicle suspension lift kit. Those items of evidence suggested ZIMMERMAN as a possible suspect in the fires. When he was interviewed on November 2 and 9, 2009, ZIMMERMAN admitted to setting some fires. He said that other people were with him, but would not reveal their names and claimed that they did not start any fires. ZIMMERMAN was interviewed a third time on March 17, 2010. During that interview, he admitted that CLARK and "S.K." were present on October 17, 2009, and also admitted that CLARK started some fires.
On May 13, 2010, "S.K." was also interviewed about the fires. He stated that he was present with ZIMMERMAN and CLARK on October 17, 2009, and that both ZIMMERMAN and CLARK started fires. "S.K." said he tried to start some fires on October 17, 2009, but his lighter would not work. He also stated that CLARK tried to convince him to start additional fires in the Birch Creek area and in another area known as the East Ridge.
CLARK, who is currently employed with the Forest Service as a fire-fighter, was a temporary employee in October 2009 and was involved in the suppression effort for the Birch Creek fires. When he was interviewed on March 18, 2010, he said he had no involvement in the fires.
A.W. was interviewed on March 22, 2010. She is CLARK's ex-girlfriend. She reported that on one occasion, when he was drunk, CLARK told her that he, ZIMMERMAN, and "S.K." set trees on fire in the Black Mountain area. When she asked him about it later, he denied any involvement.
L.N. was interviewed on May 1, 2010. She is "S.K.'s" girlfriend. She said "S.K.", ZIMMERMAN and CLARK set fires in Black Mountain, but "S.K." was not present at Birch Creek. At Black Mountain, she said his lighter did not work so he was not able to light any fires. Later, she heard CLARK telling "S.K." not to say anything to anyone about their presence at the scene of the fires.
They each face possible penalties of 1 year in prison, a $100,000 fine and 1 year supervised release.
The investigation was conducted by the Law Enforcement and Investigations Division of the Forest Service.
A copy of the Offer of Proof can be obtained by contacting Sally Frank at (406) 247-4638.