News and Press Releases

Former Evergreen Student Secured Car, Served as Lookout in Firebomb Conspiracy

June 19, 2008

BRIANA WATERS, 32, now of Oakland, California, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to six years in prison, three years of supervised release and $6,092,649 in restitution for the 2001 Arson of the UW Center for Urban Horticulture. WATERS was convicted of the 2001 fire in March 2008, following a three week trial. The jury deliberated four days before returning guilty verdicts. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Franklin D. Burgess said he considered and wrestled with this case for a long time and noted, “There are consequences for actions.”

At trial prosecutors showed how rental car, telephone and bank records corroborated the testimony of two cooperating witnesses, Jennifer Kolar and Lacey Phillabaum. Both women have pleaded guilty for their roles in the May 21, 2001, fire that destroyed the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle. Both women independently named WATERS as the person who served as the lookout for the arson team.

Testimony at trial revealed that Justin Solondz, 28, then a student at Evergreen State College, and WATERS’ boyfriend, built the destructive devices used in the fire in a “clean room” in the garage of WATERS’ rented Olympia home. WATERS arranged for her cousin’s wife (also an Olympia resident) to rent a car. WATERS told the cousin she would use the car to move some of her belongings out of her cousin’s home to her own residence. That never happened. Instead, WATERS borrowed the car the Sunday evening before the fire, claiming she was ill and needed to go to the hospital. Later, WATERS told her cousin she had not been able to get medical attention in Olympia and so had her boyfriend drive her to Seattle for medical care. In fact, WATERS and Solondz joined William Rodgers and Lacey Phillabaum for the drive to Seattle. They met up with Jennifer Kolar at the Green Lake Bar and Grill, and in the dark hours of the morning traveled to the Center for Urban Horticulture where they set the destructive devices that caused a three alarm fire. The May 21, 2001, fire caused over $6 million in damages. The center has been rebuilt at a cost of about $7 million. The fire destroyed samples of rare and endangered plants. Some researchers lost important data for their work to protect endangered plant species.

In asking for a ten year sentence, prosecutors pointed out the extreme danger of the arson. “Waters and her co-conspirators burned a large university building devoted to botanical research and teaching. In doing so, they created a huge fire that easily could have injured or killed either students (who often worked and slept in the building overnight) or responding firefighters (for whom this was the largest -- and one of the most dangerous -- fires they battled during the entire year of 2001),” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

The UW fire bombing was one of a string of 17 arsons across the west by the radical group the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The arson spree did tens of millions of dollars in damage. 19 people have been charged in the investigation; 14 have been convicted, including Ms. Waters, and four remain fugitives. Among those previously sentenced:

Stanislas Meyerhoff – 13 years in prison
Kevin Tubbs – 12 years, 7 months in prison
Chelsea Gerlach – 9 years in prison
Joyanna Zacher – 7 years, 8 months in prison
Nathan Block – 7 years, 8 months in prison
Daniel McGowan – 7 years in prison
Jonathon Paul – 4 years, 3 months in prison
Suzanne Savoie – 4 years, 3 months in prison.

The leader of the arson cell, William C. Rodgers, 40, of Prescott, Arizona, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle in connection with the case, but committed suicide December 22, 2005, while being held in the Coconino County Jail in Prescott, Arizona. Justin Solondz remains a fugitive and is actively being sought by law enforcement.

Jennifer Kolar is scheduled to be sentenced on July 18, 2008. Lacey Phillabaum is scheduled to be sentenced on August 19, 2008.

This case is the result of a nine-year investigation by law enforcement. Participating in the extensive investigation were the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), the Eugene Police Department, the University of Washington Police Department and other state and federal law enforcement agencies.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Friedman and First Assistant United States Attorney Mark Bartlett. For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington, at (206) 553-4110.

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