08-07-2003, 07:16 PM #1
Montana Arson suspect denied release from jail
Accused of setting 11 wildfires over the past month, Kevin Grant will stay in jail at least through the fire season, as his release would put all of western Montana at risk, U.S. Magistrate Leif Ericson ruled Thursday.
"I appreciate that his family is willing to take the defendant into their home," Ericson said during a hearing in federal court in Missoula. "I appreciate he would not like to be here. But I also appreciate that we are in the midst of a very difficult fire season and that he put the community at risk by starting these fires."
In a criminal complaint filed Monday, Grant was accused of starting 11 wildfires in the Thompson Falls area between July 6 and July 27. Any of those fires could have been catastrophic, given the extreme fire danger in western Montana, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean.
Were he released pending trial on the arson charges, Grant could again set fires - even if he were on electronic surveillance and under his parents' supervision, McLean said. The judge agreed.
However, federal public defender Melissa Harrison asked Ericson to take into account that Grant, 25, is a lifelong resident of Sanders County, that his mother and stepfather are willing to be his guardians, and that his past criminal record consists of drunken driving and a pair of pranks.
"Mr. Grant is not a hardened criminal," Harrison said. "He is a young man. He is scared senseless right now."
He also has not yet been tried and has not been found guilty, she said. "Mr. Grant is willing to do anything and everything to be able to go home."
Ericson was just as insistent that Grant remain in the Missoula County jail, where he poses no risk to any community in western Montana.
"I do not find conditions to exist that allow the release of this defendant," the judge said, "at least during this fire season."
The affidavit filed in support of the arson charges by Special Agent Jackie Fisher of the U.S. Forest Service chronicled the series of suspicious wildfires reported to the Plains Interagency Dispatch Center. All were similar in origin and location, Fisher said.
Each time, the fires were set along U.S. Highway 200, each time using devices made by taping matches to a filtered cigarette. When investigators searched Grant's truck, they reported finding seven packs of filtered Marlboro cigarettes and a roll of black electrician's tape - and a cigarette with matches taped to the outside.
Each time one of the wildfires was reported, Grant responded as a member of the Thompson Falls Rural Fire Department - and several times was seen en route to the Fire Hall before the fire was reported.
After his arrest, Grant admitted to starting nine of the fires under investigation, according to the affidavit.
Grant became a suspect in the fires after he was seen driving his black 1976 Chevrolet pickup - with the Montana license plate number "ACS 383" - at the site of a July 13 wildfire prior to its start. The person who saw Grant had known him for many years.
Six days later, the same man saw Grant on Airport Road outside Thompson Falls just before another wildfire began. In addition, he saw Grant speeding to the Fire Hall with his emergency lights on before the fire was reported to the Sanders County Sheriff's Office.
Forest Service law officers also saw Grant at or near the site of wildfires during their surveillance, and watched as he responded to the Thompson Falls Fire Hall from the direction of several arson fires.
Grant has not yet entered a plea to the charges. That will come after a formal grand jury indictment, McLean said.Buckle Up, Slow Down, Arrive Alive
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