Record cleared for Glenwood High senior who says he had nothing to do with Sunrise Court Fire last summer
Sam Fitzwilliams, a senior who is set to graduate from Glenwood Springs High School this month, will have a clean record after agreeing to take a court diversion offer in connection with the Sunrise Court Fire last August.
More than that, though, he wants his name cleared altogether.
Fitzwilliams told the Post Independent last week that the case against him never should have gotten as far as it did, and that it was a simple case of “wrong place, wrong time.”
“It’s terrible to have to go through this, and it should never have gotten to that point,” Fitzwilliams said. “I definitely felt like there was some injustice.”
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Fitzwilliams said he was in his own car with a couple of friends from the Glenwood High football team, hanging out along the river south of the Glenwood Airport before football practice the evening of Aug. 28, 2019, when the fire started.
He said they did interact briefly with a group of teens who were in another car that happened by, Fitzwilliams said.
“They were talking about setting off some fireworks … as soon as they said that, we got out of there,” Fitzwilliams said.
The fire ultimately burned 20 acres and came dangerously close to several houses in the Four Mile Ranch subdivision at the top of a steep ridge where the fire burned. The rapidly spreading blaze prompted a quick response from the Glenwood Springs Fire Department and other agencies, including use of an aerial slurry bomber, before it was extinguished.
A several-months-long investigation by police and fire officials that included video surveillance from the area resulted in seven teenagers facing charges for firing woods or prairie, reckless endangerment and illegal use of fireworks.
Fitzwilliams, who had turned 18 just weeks before the incident, was the only one to be charged as an adult. The others, all under age 18 at the time, were charged as juveniles and thus not named.
The other six teens have also accepted a court diversion that, if successfully completed, will clear their records, according to Tony Hershey, deputy district attorney for the Ninth District.
Fitzwilliams’ diversion agreement was handled through the District Attorney’s office, while the juveniles involved were referred to YouthZone, Hershey said, calling it a “reasonable” outcome.
“Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt and there was no property damage,” Hershey said of the incident.
The case against Fitzwilliams was formally dismissed April 23 by Judge Paul Metzger.
Fitzwilliams said he and his attorney were prepared to go to trial, but the diversion offer — an online fire safety course that took less than an hour and $25 to complete — seemed reasonable to keep from having to do that.
Much of the fire safety information he said he was already familiar with, since his father, Scott Fitzwilliams, is supervisor for the White River National Forest based in Glenwood Springs.
“Obviously, you learn from these experiences, but there are also times when you know you did nothing wrong,” Sam Fitzwilliams said.
As he was trying to put the situation behind him, Fitzwilliams also had to deal with losing the spring baseball season and not having a traditional graduation ceremony due to the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus.
“It’s just so disappointing,” he said, acknowledging it was the right decision given the danger the virus poses.
“I’ve been playing with these kids since we could play baseball … so it’s hard, because we had put in so much work during the offseason,” he said.
Fitzwilliams said he plans to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder, and hopes to go into law.
“This whole thing really kind of helped make my decision,” he said of his recent experience with the criminal justice system.
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