Prosecutor names woman as suspect in Vail ski resort arson

By Jeff Barnard

AP Environmental Writer

EUGENE, Ore. — One of the six arrested in a string of firebombings and other attacks in the Northwest is also a prime suspect in five other cases, including the 1998 firebombing of a ski resort at Vail, Colo., that caused $12 million damage, a federal prosecutor said today.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirk Engdahl made the allegation against Chelsea Gerlach of Portland during a bail hearing in U.S. District Court.

Gerlach, 28, has been indicted on charges she helped two others topple a Bonneville Power Administration high-tension line 25 miles east of Bend on the night of Dec. 30, 1999.

Prosecutors also have filed a criminal complaint against her in the May 9, 1999, firebombing of the Childers Meat Co. in Eugene. Engdahl said he will present evidence to a grand jury Wednesday seeking indictments against Gerlach in the meatpacking fire and a 2001 firebombing at a tree farm in Clatskanie.

She was one of six people arrested in five states last week on indictments alleging they took part in a string of arson attacks and other crimes between 1998 and 2001 in Oregon and Washington, for which the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front took responsibility. A seventh person remains at large, perhaps in Germany, Engdahl said.

Judge Thomas Coffin ordered Gerlach held without bail, pending the outcome of Wednesday's grand jury session.

In arguing that she be held without bail, Engdahl said Gerlach had a boyfriend who was an illegal alien from Canada, and is a prime suspect in five other cases.

Those cases are the Oct. 11, 1998, attempted arson at Bureau of Land Management wild horse corrals in Rock Springs, Wyo.; the Oct. 19, 1998, firebombing of a ski resort at Vail; the Dec. 25, 1999, arson of a Boise Cascade office in Monmouth, Ore.; the firebombing of the Jefferson Poplar Farm in Clatskanie, Ore., for which two others have been arrested; and the May 21, 2001, firebombing of the University of Washington horticultural research center in Seattle.

Federal public defender Craig Weinerman argued for Gerlach's release, saying the evidence against her was meager, and so far amounted just to statements from two informants involved in the meatpacking plant arson.