Fatali pleads guilty

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This article is five days old. I'm posting it here for those who might have missed it.
Photographer admits fire role
By Angie Welling

Deseret News staff writer
The nature photographer accused of setting fires at Delicate Arch last year pleaded guilty Friday in federal court.

      Michael Fatali, Springdale, also pleaded guilty to setting two fires in Canyonlands National Park in August 1997. The 36-year-old professional photographer faces up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine for each of the seven misdemeanor counts.

      Fatali also agreed to pay full restitution to the National Park Service for damage caused by the fires. Restoration is estimated at more than $16,000.

      On Sept. 18, 2000, Fatali led a group of amateur photographers to Delicate Arch to photograph the famous four-story sandstone arch, which is the backdrop of some Utah license plates. At his direction, Fatali's assistant and others from the group set two fires, one directly under the arch and another to the east of the structure. Aluminum baking pans brought along to contain the fire failed, and the flames scorched and discolored the sandstone. Fatali tried to stomp out the fires, but one was still burning when the group left the area.

      Park visitors reported the damage to rangers the next morning.

      Officials were able to remove some of the scorch marks immediately, but remaining scars from the fire could not be removed because an oily or waxy stain had penetrated the rock.

      Fatali on Friday also admitted to starting two fires in Canyonlands National Park, the first on Aug. 12, 1997, at Horsehoof Arch and again on Aug. 13, 1997, at the Joint Trails Needles District. He used wood from within the park to start the two fires, he said.

      According to prosecutors, in November 2000 Fatali sent an e-mail message to members of the photography community apologizing for what happened, saying he "seriously regretted" the incident. "I simply screwed up," the message said.

      Defense attorney Kristine Rogers declined to comment Friday, saying Fatali would make a statement after his Feb. 1, 2002, sentencing hearing.

      Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Dance said Fatali fully acknowledged his criminal conduct by pleading guilty to all seven counts as charged.

      "It's a matter that's very serious," Dance said. "All of our national parks are for the enjoyment of future generations."

-- Stewart Ethier (sethier@goez.net), December 12, 2001


Part of his sentencing should include an order for him to photograph the stain on the arch and display it prominently on his web page.

-- (pocoveit@yahoo.com), December 12, 2001.

And prominently in his gallery. I think another photographer should make the image however.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), December 12, 2001.

Both galleries.

-- Chad Jarvis (cjarvis@nas.edu), December 12, 2001.

And maybe have it tattoo'd on his forehead.

-- David Munson (apollo@luxfragilis.com), December 12, 2001.

Come on! How much emprisonment did the Exxon guys get for soiling the Alaskan coast, killing thousands of wild life and depriving the fisheries from their income? Not a day, I bet. And here this poor photographer faces six months because he left his matches on the ground. This is clearly out of proportion!

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), December 13, 2001.

Paul, I'd rather see it as the Exxon results were out of proportion!

-- Sal Santamaura (santamaura@earthlink.net), December 13, 2001.


Whatever you are on, I wish you would share it with me. It sure would help me get through the long winter!!!!

-- Bruce Arnold (avidhikers@attbi.com), December 13, 2001.


I'm sure if he had the money to spend on lawyers that Exxon had he wouldn't be facing jail time either. I think Exxon execs as well as the captain of the ship should have been sentenced to twenty years of scrubbing rocks and workingto restore wildlife populations in McMurdo Sound. Several people were able to point directly to Fatali as the person who caused the damage and that he directed others to do as he did and further was teaching a workshop class that what he was doing was okay. Finally there is the matter of Fatali's arrogant behavior since the discovery ofthe damage to Delicate Arch. which also happens to be an important and sacred spot fro the native American inhabitants of the reason, for them his actions and arrogance must be akin to spray painting graffitti on the Dome of the Rock or the Wailing Wall in jerusalem or on the Vatican; another case of gringo arrogance.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), December 13, 2001.

Thanks Ellis. Well, maybe I am not aware of all the details. I'm sure this will be a lesson for all photographers including me who will be tempted at one time or another to transgress the rules. But generally speaking, why perpetuate this old "tar and feathers" revenge mentality? We, Europeans, watching what is going on on the other side of the pond have come to the point where we are reluctant to travel to the States in fear that we could get jailed for the rest of our days and stripped from all our belongings because we walked accidentally on someone's foot! The land of democracy and the human rights is also sometimes a land of some strange manners! Oh, of course I am not saying my country is any better, that's not the point. Just trying to sympathize with a fellow photographer who had a bad blow. Take it easy!

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), December 14, 2001.

Well, I think I have gone too far and offer my apologies before this discussion takes a bad turn. It was not my intention to hurt or be impolite.

Season's greetings to all! Bruce, don't smoke the Christmas tree!

Your friend from abroad.

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), December 14, 2001.

Didn't Joe Hazelrigg (sp?) part-time captain of the Valdez get significant jail time? And didn't Exxon get socked with a $5 Billion fine (recently overturned on appeal as excessive)?

-- Kevin Crisp (KRCrisp@aol.com), December 14, 2001.

In March 1989 the state of Alaska brought a criminal indictment against Joseph Hazelwood, the Exxon Valdez captain, for his role in the oil spill disaster. In March 1990 he was acquitted of operating a ship while intoxicated, presumably because he had turned control of the ship over to the Third Mate.

Many believed that Hazelwood erred in turning the ship over to Third Mate during the passage, since the Third Mate lacked a "pilotage endorsement" required for navigating the Sound. However, the pilotage issue was obfuscated by a previous easing of the rules by the US Coast Guard. Some blamed the Coast Guard for failing to track the Exxon Valdez by radar through the Sound. Such monitoring might have resulted in an alert that could have kept the tanker off the reef. The Coast Guard blamed faulty equipment and a change of shift for the oversight.

Hazelwood was eventually convicted on one misdemeanor. His captain's license was restored to him following a nine-month suspension. Unable to find work at sea, Hazelwood took a job as a maritime insurance adjuster.

So far, Exxon (now ExxonMobil) has paid about $2.25 billion in actual clean-up costs and damages (to fisherman, State of Alaska, etc.) and has argued that it should not have to pay another $5 billion in punitive damages. A federal appeals court has recently ordered that the $5 billion judgment for punitive damages against Exxon is excessive, and that it be reduced by an unspecified amount. Litigation is still in progress.

The above was compiled from various news reports.

-- Michael Feldman (mfeldman@qwest.net), December 14, 2001.

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