A teenager responsible for a huge wildfire that spread in the scenic Columbia River George in Oregon is being asked to pay a whopping $37 million in restitution - a staggering amount that he’ll never earn in his lifetime under normal circumstances.
Eleven requests for restitution have been forwarded and submitted to the court covering the costs of firefighting, repair and restoration for the gorge and damage to homes.
The teen involved pleaded guilty in February to reckless burning of public and private property and other charges. Hood River County Judge John Olson sentenced him to community service and probation. The boy was also asked to write more than 150 letters of apology.
The 15-year-old teen admitted that he threw one firework that exploded in the air along a trail. Not content with that, the boy threw a longer fuse and ignited brush when it hit the ground.
Then the disaster happened as the flames spread quickly that even led to forced evacuations of those affected. It also necessitated the shutdown of a major interstate highway.
Aside from the temporary inconveniences inflicted on the innocent
and the damage to property, the more devastating impact of the wildfire is that it blackened the crown jewel of an outdoors-loving region for years to come.
The Columbia River George National Scenic Area after all is a tourist attraction drawing more than 3 million tourists a year. It also holds North America’s largest concentration of waterfalls. The wildfire sadly ravaged popular hiking trails and marred what were once stunning vistas.
The teen responsible for the fire received such intense anger and disapproval from many people that authorities feared for his safety. It’s for that reason that they decided to withheld his name for his own protection. The boy is simply listed in court papers as A.B.
The boy’s lawyer, Jack Morries urged Olson during a hearing on Thursday to impose a “reasonable and rational” amount of restitution, saying a $37 million amount for restitution is simply “absurd.”
Olson said he will review the case and also revealed that he has reviewed prior juvenile restitution cases in Oregon and the biggest figure he could find was $114,000. He admits that $37 million is an “extraordinary amount of restitution being sought.”
Among those seeking restitution include the U.S. Forest Service which is seeking $21 million in payments and the Oregon Department of Transportation which is asking for $12.5 million. Other requests for restitution range from $4,563 to $1.6 million.
Even if a minor is involved in the case, restitution is solely the responsibility of the teen, not his parents. The teen’s parents came to the U.S. from Ukraine. State law permits the Oregon Department of Revenue to garnishee the teen’s bank accounts or paychecks. If he is due for tax returns, the state could also take the money there. There’s also no escape if and when he wins the lottery as the state could also collect all of his winnings.
The law gives the judge, however, some leeway in restitution cases such as stopping payments after 10 years if the teen, for example, stays out of legal trouble. The judge could also decide not to garish wages.