03/17/2008: "Eco-Terrorism On Orcas"
Gabriel Thomas Mondragon, 29 years old, who recently arrived from New Mexico, explained to Sheriff’s Deputies that in an attempt to make the people on Orcas “suffer just like the whales and trees”, he attempted to use a tree limbing saw -on a metal pole- to cut through a 69,000 volt power line.
According to the sheriff’s report, the man, identified as Gabriel Mondragon, also stated he wanted to protest “the death of Luna the whale and the destruction of the rain forest.”
Being well informed on the power of high voltage power lines, Mondragon cleverly put on several pair of latex dish washing gloves to isolate him from electrocution, and proceeded to touch saw to power line.
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Mondragon was found laying on his back some distance from the line, his pants had been on fire, where they had burned away from his hips down. His gloves had partially melted, and he had “first, second and third degree burns’ on various parts of his body. He was, in short, lucky to be alive. He now has some medical and legal problems to deal with, including some interest in his actions by the FBI.
An OPALCO lineman who responded to the outage was on site at the substation within twenty minutes and called the sheriff’s office for an aid car. The sheriff’s office and fire department arrived with aid within ten minutes.
The substation is surrounded by a barbwire topped fence, so Mondragon first tried to reach the power line by standing on a ladder. When that failed to get him close enough to be electrocuted, he went over the fence, and was then was able to reach a power line.
Thousands of people on parts of Orcas and Shaw only experienced a temporary loss of electrical power as a result Mondragon’s action, while Mondragon was flow off to Harborview Hospital in Seattle via AirLift Northwest, for treatment of what are being called serious injuries..
The incident has been reported to the FBI, and Sheriff Bill Cumming said County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord will determine what, if any, charges may be pending, but at the least he may be charged with trespass. Gaylord said he would review the on-scene reports prior to making a determination of what appropriate charges may be.
OPALCO General Manager Randy Cornelius said he was required to notify the FBI of the incident, but that he had no information on any of the specifics of the case.
Cumming said because the crime involved a utility, the FBI has jurisdiction to enter the case. Given Mondragon’s statements, it seems likely he may also face additional charges related to “eco-terrorism”. The FBI defines eco-terrorism as “acts of violence in protest of harm to animals or to the environment, ” and it “is the United States' No.1 terrorism threat from inside its own borders.”
The County Council met this morning for their normal Monday morning work session, and Councilman Bob Myhr, who also is a siting board member of OPALCO, briefed the Council on the incident. Chairman Howard Rosenfeld said he was sure the OPALCO facilities are “not hardened against this type of thing, and never will be; so we need to stop alienating our own people.”
“This tragic incident underlines the importance of public education about the dangers of power lines and electrical safety, “ stated OPALCO General Manager, Randy Cornelius. “I’m proud of how quickly and efficiently our linemen and emergency services responded; I’m grateful for the professionalism of the law enforcement and fire service personnel who responded and took control of the scene—and am thankful that no lives were lost. Our thoughts are with the family of the young man that was injured.”
Power was restored to most of the island by 11:30 p.m. Some areas were without power until noon Sunday.
OPALCO is a member-owned cooperative electrical utility serving more than 10,000 islanders in San Juan County. OPALCO provides mostly renewable electricity that is 97% greenhouse-gas free and is predominately generated by hydro-electric plants.