by Rick Langenberg
Payback time has finally arrived for arson and theft suspects that have haunted the region.
Last week, the second suspect in the devastating fire that destroyed the historic Green Mountain Falls town hall last winter, agreed to a plea deal. Under the agreement, Kyle Lawrence of Colorado Springs, faces a six to 10 years behind bars, for his involvement in torching the Green Mountain Falls town hall last winter. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2013.
This will finalize probably the most publicized arson case that ever occurred in Green Mountain Falls. A second man convicted of the crime, 21-year-old Zachariah Shaffer, was sentenced in early November to 12 years in prison.
The 1898 town hall was completely destroyed in the flames along with many historic documents, but no city employees were injured. The local government has relocated its offices temporarily inside the Joyland Church facility at the west entrance to town. Local leaders are currently mulling permanent options for building a new city hall.
Authorities say Lawrence was badly burned while committing the crime. Shaffer, regarded as the main instigator, was previously sentenced to 12 years in prison. In addition, he will have to serve 5 years of probation, after completing his jail time.
Both suspects were apprehended shortly after the fire engulfed town hall during the early hours of Feb. 23, 2012. The motives behind the arson apparently stemmed from a ticket one of the suspects received from the Falls Police Department. In addition, one of the suspects had reported ties with the anti-Wall Street protest movement and had strong anti-government beliefs, according to earlier media reports.
Their arrest occurred when El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) pursued a tip that the two people responsible for the Green Mountain Falls fire were at 2034 Eagle View Drive in Colorado Springs. The deputies contacted Shaffer and another person who was not suspected to be involved. Both individuals said Lawrence, was also in the home. After a brief standoff, the arson suspects voluntarily surrendered.
Lawrence then met with detectives from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department and agents from the ATF at the Memorial Hospital where he was taken for treatment of severe burns. He was then transferred to a burn care facility in Denver. Shaffer also was transported to Memorial Hospital to be treated for less severe burns and was subsequently arrested and booked into the Criminal Justice Center for charges of first degree arson, a class three felony, second degree burglary, a class four felony, and conspiracy to commit first degree Arson, a class four felony.
The arson case was investigated by members from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Green Mountain Falls Police Department. Members of the Green Mountain Falls/Chipita Park Fire Department also succeeded in containing the blaze so no other structures were destroyed. In another bout of good news, officials arrested two Colorado Springs individuals allegedly involved in looting homes victimized by last summer’s Waldo Canyon fire. David Town, 31, was arrested early last week after investigators served a search warrant at a home in the Case Del Rey Apartments in Colorado Springs. He was arrested without incident. Authorities believe Town was involved in at least one burglary in the Waldo Canyon burn area, but declined to release details. And a day later, investigators charged Alexis Mendez, 19, of a single burglary in the Waldo Canyon burn area. Mendez was already in jail on unrelated charges.
If convicted, both men could face serious jail time. In a press conference last summer, Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May maintained that authorities would prosecute anyone involved in looting homes impacted by the Waldo Canyon fire to the full extent of the law. He vowed that thefts suspects nabbed for these crimes could be assured of spending years behind bars. However, authorities are still trying to trace leads regarding who may have been involved in starting the Waldo Canyon fire that torched nearly 400 homes and created more property damage than any blaze in the history of Colorado.