Carbondale man collects evidence to show that someone else could have started County Road 100 Fire |

Carbondale man collects evidence to show that someone else could have started County Road 100 Fire

ASPEN, Colorado ” The man who authorities blame for a wildfire outside of Carbondale last April is collecting evidence to try to show that other people might have started the blaze, his attorney said Thursday.

Attorney Tom Silverman said that his client, Larry Gerbaz, wasn’t the only landowner in the neighborhood who had a controlled burn on or immediately before April 15, when the wildfire broke out. The wind-whipped flames injured a fisherman and threatened 150 homes along County Road 100 east of Carbondale. The fire caused minor damage to three houses.

“We are continuing to interview eyewitnesses to the various fires in the area,” Silverman said after Gerbaz appeared in Garfield County District Court. Silverman told Judge Daniel Petre that he had a good reason to seek another continuance in the case, which has been in a holding pattern since the District Attorney’s Office charged Gerbaz with two counts of fourth-degree arson July 31.

“We have an ongoing investigation, and we have more leads,” Silverman told the judge. “It’s a complex case.”

Petre granted the continuance until Dec. 11, when Gerbaz may be required to accept a disposition or proceed to trial.

The district attorney’s office has offered a plea bargain, but the details of the proposal haven’t been publicly released. “A tentative offer was made, and we’re negotiating,” Silverman said.

One of the arson counts against Gerbaz is a felony and the other is a misdemeanor. The more serious charge stems from the injury to the angler. While terms of the proposed plea bargain haven’t been disclosed, it is common in some cases for the prosecutor to reduce a felony charge to a misdemeanor in return for a guilty plea.

However, a plea deal might be a tough call for Gerbaz. On the one hand, he could theoretically remove the risk of a felony conviction by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.

On the other hand, acknowledging responsibility in a criminal case could harm Gerbaz and his insurance company if any civil litigation arises over damages from the wildfire.

A source familiar with the case said insurance companies are wrangling behind the scenes over claims for compensation for damages. No civil lawsuits are pending at this time.

The fire erupted on a Tuesday, when heavy spring winds built up through the morning and eventually exceeded 50 mph. Authorities said they traced the source of the fire to 1265 County Road 100, a ranch in the Gerbaz family. Larry Gerbaz lives on adjacent land.

He told investigators he burned a wood pile on the property the prior weekend but took numerous precautions to control it. He said he scratched a fire break around the wood pile and doused the embers after the flames died down.

Authorities believe the high winds later in the week kicked up sparks and started the wildfire that raced east and northeast from the Gerbaz pasture. Gerbaz and his wife, Molly, told deputies that they saw two other people burning in the neighborhood the morning that the fire broke out. The police report of the incident said at least three witnesses claimed they saw the fire start on the Gerbaz property. Silverman indicated Thursday that that other witnesses will back Gerbaz. That creates a classic case of conflicting stories.

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