FORT COLLINS - A Denver man accused of sneaking past disaster-zone barricades, stealing radios and impersonating a firefighter during the High Park Fire in 2012 avoided trial with a plea deal, according to court records.
Michael Stillman Maher, 32, admitted guilt to felony attempted trespassing and misdemeanor impersonating a public servant Monday, roughly two weeks before his trial was to start.
Maher was arrested in June 2012 after investigators said he sneaked past the fire perimeter using a stolen government license plate from the Glenwood Springs area and "old identification," according to his arrest affidavit. He was accused of taking food meant for firefighters, and pictures posted on his Facebook page showed him inside the cockpit of firefighting helicopters and with Gov. John Hickenlooper at the command center.
In Jefferson County, Maher had been scheduled for a June trial on charges of stealing a chainsaw, radio, hose, ready-to-eat meals and more from the North Fork Fire command post earlier in 2012. He pleaded guilty in that case last May to felony theft and misdemeanor impersonating a public servant and was given 60 days in jail with two years in a diversion program, according to court records.
The Larimer County case could result in Maher spending up to 18 months in prison on the felony and up to six months in jail on the misdemeanor. Other charges were dismissed at the time of the plea agreement, which occurred at a hearing initially scheduled to be a pretrial conference.
Maher remains free on bond with sentencing set for 2 p.m. Nov. 14 in 8th Judicial District Court.
The High Park Fire affected 87,284 acres and burned 259 homes in June 2012.
A similar disaster-zone perimeter was set up in the wake of September's floods affecting areas west and southwest of Fort Collins. No impersonation cases have been reported, but a number of people have been cited for illegally crossing the lines, according to Larimer County Sheriff's Office.
In response to the plea, Maher's attorney released the following statement.
"From the very beginning, Mike Maher admitted that he acted foolishly and should never have been in the fire zone. But, also from the beginning, It has been clear he only meant to help in the firefighting effort and never meant to cause anyone harm, stress, or to diminish the heroism of those placing their lives in danger to help others. The fact that he did so is devastating to him.
The plea resolution was agreeable to Mike Maher because it eliminates the risk of prison time. It reflects his true motives- to help. Mike is trained in firefighting, with an associates degree in the field. He is also a graduate of the fire academy and has earned countless certifications in wild land firefighting.
He is at peace with the resolution and is hopeful that the plea will bring closure and peace to all those impacted by the devastating High Park Fire."
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