PHOENIX — Taz Stoner, a river guide who led the dynamite crew that calmed the fatal rages of Arizona's Quartzite Falls, apparently has fled to avoid prison.
"I had to leave on short notice to God knows where," said Stoner in a letter read to U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll on the day of his sentencing. Prison would have been "just too much," he wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton said investigators have been unable to find Stoner. Acquaintances believe the 34-year-old outdoorsman and engineer could be in Canada.
So an arrest warrant has been issued for William (Taz) Stoner, who claimed he blew up the falls to save the lives of weekend white-water rafters, not to vandalize a wilderness treasure or decrease its challenge.
"I kinda knew we were doing something wrong," Stoner said in a December interview with The Times. "But I had no idea you could go to jail for it. I did it to save lives, to make it safer for people to pass through there."
But environmentalists say that quartz rock helped squeeze the Salt River into a natural canyon hazard that no man should put asunder. The U.S. Forest Service said the falls' broad lower lip was federal property destroyed by Stoner and seven acquaintances with 45 pounds of dynamite.
Last year, the Quartzite Eight were arrested, charged, and eventually pleaded guilty. Stoner signed an agreement to spend 18 months in jail and pay a fine of $30,000. Others plea-bargained for probation, suspended sentences and fines.
But hours before sentencing on March 27, Stoner became a fugitive. His flight, prosecutors say, breaches the agreement and leaves Stoner vulnerable to heavier sentences. Destruction of federal property, for example, carries a maximum of 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.