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Bellingham woman convicted of railroad sabotage, placing shunt on tracks

(AP)

A 28-year-old Bellingham woman was convicted in federal court today of violence against a railroad carrier.

A jury for the Western District of Washington found Ellen Reiche guilty of placing a shunt on a Bellingham railroad in November 2020.

Another Bellingham woman, 24-year-old Samantha Brooks, was arrested with Reiche, and pleaded guilty earlier this summer. Brooks and Reiche each face potentially 20 years in prison. 

The two were found trespassing on train tracks in Bellingham late at night last November, wearing dark clothing and carrying a bag of tools. A shunt was found on the tracks nearby.

By disrupting railway signals, shunts can have deadly effects. These can include train derailments, as well as railroad warning lights and bars being shut off so that cars mistakenly cross tracks when a train is coming.

Reiche and Brooks told law enforcement at the time that they were looking for a lost set of keys. However, prosecutors noted that they were not using flashlights and did not even have phones on them. Furthermore, both had dirt on their clothing, and the shunt was found to be covered in dirt.

The jury deliberated for about three hours before reaching its verdict. Brooks and Reiche will be sentenced later this year.

The FBI is investigating more than 40 cases of shunts being placed along railroads in Whatcom and Skagit Counties since last year. These tracks have been hotspots for protests against oil and coal trains.

A train derailment last December just north of Bellingham in Custer did not injure anyone, but it did spill 29,000 gallons of crude oil. The cause of that derailment is still under investigation by the NTSB and FBI. 

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