File photo by Chuck Peters
Dade Magistrate Judge Joel McCormick reported on Wednesday that Tatum Gap Road homeowner Linda Holder had entered a guilty plea and paid a $315 fine in connection with the monster wildfire that burned for weeks this fall on Lookout Mountain.
Ms. Holder had been cited by the Georgia Forestry Commission for burning without a permit and allowing an outside fire to burn out of control. The Tatum Gulf fire escalated into a 2836-acre blaze that kept local GFC rangers, reinforcements from throughout the state and Dade volunteer firefighters hopping throughout November. Joining forces with a Cloverdale-area fire that traveled up the mountainside, the Tatum Gap fire was the largest and most persistent of numerous wildfires that ravaged Dade County mountainsides during the prolonged 2016 drought.
The Holder case had originally been slated to be heard on Jan. 10 but Magistrate McCormick put it off until February, explaining later he had been unavailable to hear the case because it had been erroneously scheduled for 9 a.m. His court does not start until 10 a.m., he said at the time, and earlier in the morning he had been busy driving someone to the hospital.
This month, though, McCormick, (pictured here in his official website photo) said Ms. Holder and her attorney had presented themselves in person and been dealt with and dismissed before McCormick started his regular morning caseload of police cases (see ensuing article).
"Magistrate Court, also called Small Claims Court," explains the court's website, "is an informal court that handles money claims of less than $15,000, offering a quick and inexpensive process for complaint resolution. This court also issues arrest and search warrants and presides over all county ordinance violations."
Why was the case made by GFC on the Tatum Gulf fire heard in the lower court rather than Dade Superior? Wendy Burnett, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Forestry Commission, confirmed last month that intent is an important factor in an arson charge. Without an intent to do harm, a fire no matter how big is not a crime but an accident, subject to citations rather than criminal charges.