Whopper of the Week: Terry Lynn Barton
What's that smell? An alibi, up in smoke.
"[U.S. Forest Service forestry technician Terry Lynn] BARTON stated, in substance, that she was patrolling the South Park Ranger District on the afternoon of Saturday, June 8, 2002 to enforce the Forest Service fire ban. She stated that she was driving down Forest Service Road 290. She thought she smelled smoke, so she turned down a spur off of Road 290. Finding nothing, she claimed that she returned to Road 290. She reported that she came around a curve and saw a fire measuring approximately 20 feet by 20 feet on the north side of Road 290, near a dispersed campsite. She stated that she attempted to contact dispatch while she engaged in fire suppression activities. The fire moved into nearby trees and had gone out of control by the time an engine responded and was able to begin to spray water on the fire."
— Criminal Complaint by Joseph D. Crook, Jr., special agent, U.S. department of agriculture, filed June 16 in U.S. District Court, Colorado.
"BARTON's account of her observations and her actions were inconsistent with the forensic examination of the fire's point of origin and the conclusions of the Fire Behavior Analysis. …When informed of the conclusions of the forensic investigators BARTON recanted her previous statements and admitted that they were false. BARTON stated that she had not smelled smoke at all and that, in fact, she had not discovered the fire, but had, in fact, started the fire herself. ... She reported that she looked at a letter that she had received that morning from her estranged husband. She became angry and upset and decided to get rid of the letter. BARTON stated that she drove past the campfire ring off of Road 290 and decided to burn the letter. She walked to the campfire ring, knelt down, and ignited the paper letter with a match or matches she had in her purse. … As she drove past the campfire ring, she claimed that she observed that the fire had escaped from the campfire ring and was on the ground in the vicinity of nearby pine trees, and beyond the trees in the grass. She reported the fire and tried to suppress it, without success."
Discussion. The U.S. attorney doesn't buy Barton's burning-letter story, either, as noted in today's Denver Post. The indictment charges her with "maliciously" rather than accidentally starting the fire. But Barton pleaded not guilty, and the accusation that Barton started the fire deliberately has not been proved.
Got a whopper? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguously false statement paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.
June 14, 2002: Tom Ridge
June 7, 2002: Former FBI Deputy Director Weldon Kennedy
May 31, 2002: Ari Fleischer
May 23, 2002: Condoleezza Rice
May 17, 2002: Robert Mueller
May 9, 2002: Karl Rove
May 3, 2002: Gen. Richard Myers
April 25, 2002: Donald Rumsfeld
April 18, 2002: George W. Bush
April 11, 2002: The Rev. Robert J. Banks, archdiocese of Boston
April 5, 2002: George W. Bush
Mar. 29, 2002: Major League Baseball
Mar. 21, 2002: Billy Graham
Mar. 14, 2002: INS commissioner James W. Ziglar
Mar. 8, 2002: Robert Zoellick and the U.S. steel industry
Feb. 28, 2002: Al Sharpton
Feb. 22, 2002: Olympic skating judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne
Feb. 14, 2002: Kenneth Lay
Feb. 8, 2002: Enron spokeswoman Peggy Mahoney
Jan. 31, 2002: Monsanto
Jan. 24, 2002: Linda Chavez
Jan. 17, 2002: George W. Bush
Jan. 10, 2002: Simon & Schuster
Jan. 4, 2002: The Associated Press
(Click here to access the Whopper Archive for 2001.)
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.