Friday, August 15, 2008

Man charged with arson at National Forest trailheads

A man charged with a string of vehicle arsons in 2007 at two different Bitterroot trailheads was charged in Ravalli County Justice Court, Thursday.

Donnie Mack Sellars, 54, was charged with five counts of felony vehicle arson.

The case stems from a rash of trailhead arsons on the Bitterroot National Forest (in western Montana) on March 25, 2007. On that day, two vehicles were torched at the Big Creek trailhead and three others, including a horse trailer, went up in flames at the Bass Creek trailhead.

Witnesses told officials of seeing Seller’s older brown minivan at the scene of one arson shortly before the fires erupted, according to a court affidavit.

One witness said he spoke to Sellars at the Bass Creek trailhead after seeing vehicles on fire, the affidavit said. Sellars was sitting in his vehicle, which was parked next to a Nissan Pathfinder with a broken passenger side window, the records said. Sellars allegedly told the man he was calling 911 on his cell phone, but appeared confused about his location. Sellars handed the phone to the man, who told the dispatcher about the fires, the affidavit said.

When the man handed the phone back to Sellars, the witness said the Nissan Pathfinder erupted in flames, starting around the area of the window. Sellars immediately left the area in his minivan and the man wrote down the vehicle’s license plate number, the affidavit said. Sellars was arrested by a Ravalli County Sheriff’s deputy that same day heading toward the Bear Creek Trailhead parking area.

Pieces of what appeared to be shattered automobile glass were discovered in Sellars’ boots, the affidavit said. Inside his vehicle, officers found about 20 full, partially full or empty beer cans, as well as a hammer with what appeared to be embedded fragments of glass in its rubber handle, matches and cigarette lighters, crumpled newspaper and an empty kerosene container, according to the affidavit.

Sellars was previously convicted on arson charges in 1979 and 1998, when he set fire to a wood frame home in Tacoma, Wash., and for lighting a fire to his own house in Amarillo, Texas, the affidavit said. A felony charge of driving under the influence in November was filed after Sellars was found not competent to assist in his own defense, following two stays at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs.

Courtesy of the Ravalli Republic

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