The Lake State Railway in Michigan pleaded no contest on January 2 to criminal charges of operating a locomotive without a spark arrestor and was ordered to pay $294,752 in restitution and a $1,000 fine after their railroad engine started a fire in 2008 fire that burned 1,300 acres of forest, several homes, and other buildings near Grayling, Michigan.
Wildfire Today has been covering this story since the Michigan Attorney General, Mike Cox, first filed the charges in February, 2010. Other articles we wrote about the case are HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Below is an excerpt from an article at mlive.com:
Lake State Railway today pleaded no contest to charges of operating a locomotive without a spark arrester in Crawford and Arenac counties, said Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Charges of intentionally setting a wildfire were dismissed as part of the plea deal, said Yearout.
A civil lawsuit against Lake State is pending Crawford County.
An Arenac County judge placed the company on probation for one year and imposed $1,000 in fines and costs plus $294,752 in restitution to be paid to the state within 30 days, she said.
The company also must work with the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment to institute a fire prevention plan, said Yearout.
Lake State is likely to face the same penalty in Crawford County where sentencing is set for 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 14.
“We’re pleased with this agreement,” said Yearout. “The victims of the fires will receive the restitution that they are owed and the fire prevention plan that Lake State Railway will implement will significantly reduce the risk of any future fires.”
The April 24, 2008, fire caused nearly $934,000 damage and scorched 1,300 acres of Grayling-area woodland, Bay City Times records show.
Damage estimates included $464,000 in timber loss, $370,000 in personal property loss and $100,000 in fire suppression costs, according to Times archives.
Wildfire Today has praised the former Attorney General Cox for holding the railroad accountable for negligently starting fires by operating an engine without the required spark arrestor. While he was in office the state took the right approach to railroad-caused fires, unlike the state of Washington.
We hope the new Attorney General, Bill Schuette, who was sworn in on January 1, 2011, will uphold the law to the same extent as his predecessor, Mike Cox. However we are a little worried that Lake State Railway only received a $1,000 fine for their irresponsible actions and that their restitution was only a fraction of the estimated damages. But we will withhold judgement until after the Crawford County criminal and civil cases are finalized.
Civil suit still pending
On September 17, 2010 the Grayling Game Club filed a civil suit in Crawford County against the railroad. During the fire in 2008, 500 acres of the club’s property burned, in addition to several cabins. Michigan law allows for the club to recover triple the value of the property destroyed, which is estimated to be over $1 million. The club is represented by Southfield, Michigan attorney Paul F. Doherty, who told Wildfire Today that they want the criminal cases to be wrapped up before they take further action in their civil case.