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UPDATE : The Jig Is Up for Wilderness Bomber

May 08, 1996|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After more than a year on the run, fugitive William "Taz" Stoner, a river guide who used explosives to reshape the fatal twists of Arizona's Quartzite Falls, has been arrested in

The convicted bomber and wilderness expert was picked up last week in Sydney where he has been working for a river-rafting company and living under the alias of Gene Allan Carpenter. Stoner will be returned to Phoenix, says U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, and charged with failure to appear for sentencing on charges of destruction of federal property--Quartzite Falls on the Salt River in Tonto National Forest.

The falls, 100 miles northeast of Phoenix, were a white-water challenge infamous for taking the lives of even veteran river runners. When two California rafters drowned there in 1993, Stoner decided it was time to tame the menace. He recruited seven friends and led them on five trips to destroy the falls in stages with 45 pounds of fertilizer explosives.

In October 1994, a federal grand jury indicted the Quartzite Eight. Prosecutors claimed Stoner captained the conspiracy for no better reason than the falls were a bottleneck slowing the pace of his commercial river trips. In an interview with The Times, Stoner insisted he had acted to save lives, to make the falls safer.

In the end, Stoner and his group pleaded guilty. Most agreed to probation, suspended sentences and fines. Stoner plea-bargained for 18 months in jail and a $30,000 fine.

But in March of last year, on the day of his sentencing, the 35-year-old outdoorsman and engineer fled.

"I had to leave on short notice to God knows where," said Stoner in a letter to U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll. Prison would have been "just too much" he wrote.

According to U.S. Attorney Charlton, Stoner borrowed the driver's license and Social Security card of a friend--Gene Allan Carpenter--and obtained a passport in that name. Others close to the search for Stoner say he cashed out retirement savings, made equity loans on homes owned in Nevada and Arizona, and left the country with an estimated $300,000.

Charlton says Carpenter has been arrested and will be charged as an accessory after the fact. Stoner's flight also breaches his sentencing agreement and leaves him vulnerable to a heavier sentence. Destruction of federal property, for example, carries a maximum of 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

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