Fuel dumped on highway during reality TV show results in convictions
A Stockton man and his employer were recently sentenced for their roles in dumping hazardous waste on Highway 70 in February.
The crimes occurred during production of a television series called “Hell on the Highway: Highway Heroes.”
On Nov. 2, William Earnest Slade III was sentenced to 45 days in Plumas County Jail as well as $1,734 in fines, $4,612 in restitution and three years of formal probation for his part in dumping hazardous waste onto Highway 70 in Portola near a drainage to the Feather River.
His former employer, Elizabeth Cannon-Lynch, of Verdi, Nev., was sentenced in August to serve 100 hours of community service and pay $1,916 in fines.
Cannon-Lynch was ordered pay the same restitution as Slade regarding the cleanup of the hazardous waste spill. She was sentenced to three years of informal probation.
Cannon-Lynch ran a now-bankrupt towing company called Running Bear Towing at the time of the Feb. 7 incident. She received a call regarding a truck in Portola in which the driver had mixed diesel and unleaded fuel.
Although neither Cannon-Lynch, her employee Slade nor the company had any of the required permits and equipment to transport and dispose of hazardous waste, Slade nonetheless drove from Truckee to Reno to meet with Cannon-Lynch to secure gas money to get to Portola, as well as to secure an electric pump with which Slade could empty their client’s truck of hazardous fuel waste.
A television crew for the reality television program was following Slade and video-recording his actions and the conversations he had with Cannon-Lynch and others.
The district attorney’s office and the California Department of Fish and Game commended National Geographic television for providing investigator Warden Nick Buckler with a copy of the raw footage taken by the reality television crew.
District Attorney David Hollister said “the footage was invaluable in prosecuting the matter.”
Upon arrival in Portola, Slade used his electric pump to pump the hazardous fuel waste from the truck’s fuel tank to a Rubbermaid-style household garbage can.
Slade acknowledged to his camera crew that it would only take one spark from the uninsulated pump wires to cause an explosion.
Slade soon realized that his trash can was leaking, and also that it did not have sufficient capacity for the fuel that he had to remove from the truck.
Slade called Cannon-Lynch, and soon after, Slade left and reappeared on the scene with another similar trash can that he used to collect the remainder of the hazardous fuel waste.
Although the raw footage cut due to no fault of National Geographic, it resumed as Slade and the camera crew departed the scene with both trash cans in the back of Slade’s truck. But one was pictured inserted into the other.
Minutes after Slade and the camera crew left, a fireman, by coincidence, drove along Highway 70 and noticed a strong odor of fuel. He noted that the fuel was all over the highway and had drained toward, but not into, a storm drain that led to the Feather River.
Slade was charged with illegal transportation and disposal of hazardous waste and substances — felonies — as well as with counts relating to water pollution and mismanagement of hazardous waste — misdemeanors.
Cannon-Lynch was charged with transportation and mismanagement of hazardous waste — a felony and misdemeanor, respectively.
The case was investigated primarily and extensively by DFG’s Buckler, with some assistance provided by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Circuit Prosecutor Project.
The Circuit Prosecutor Project, which is primarily supported by grant funding, exists to lend to rural counties prosecutors who are experienced with the complexities often associated with prosecution of environmental crimes.
The circuit prosecutor assigned to this matter, Matthew Carr, prosecuted it under the supervision of Hollister. “The defendants in this case displayed a shocking disregard for the environment, for safety of members of our community traveling on Highway 70, of the law and of all common sense. All in the name of greed,” Carr said. “While the county of Plumas takes seriously any pollution incident, those who commit crimes such as this — that are motivated by greed and occur with a shocking disregard of the environment and public safety — should expect commission of their crime to be followed by a stay in the county jail.”