Brooks sentenced to six months after Bellingham railroad attack last year

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A federal judge sentenced Bellingham resident Samantha Frances Brooks to six months in prison after she pleaded guilty to interfering with a railroad signaling system in north Bellingham last November.

Chief U.S. District Court Ricardo S. Martinez sentenced Brooks, 28, on October 8 to six months in the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac and three years of supervision following her release. Brooks will spend her first four months of monitored supervision confined to her home except for work, religious services, medical, legal or another approved reason. She will also serve 200 hours of community service.

Brooks was arrested last November 28 after police received a motion alert and still photograph from a game camera that showed two people standing and kneeling on Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) tracks near Cliffside Drive just before midnight. Brooks and her co-defendant, Ellen Brennan Reiche, 24, also of Bellingham, were arrested after placing shunts on the train tracks. Shunts can cause train derailments and disrupt oncoming train warnings.

The U.S. Attorney recommended a lower end of sentencing guidelines after Brooks pleaded guilty July 9 to one count of interfering with railroad tracks. The maximum possible sentence under Title 18, U.S. Code was 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. 

Brooks said in her plea agreement that she followed another person’s directive to cause train delays.

A Seattle jury convicted Reiche of one count of violence against a railroad carrier on September 9. Reiche is expected to be sentenced December 17.

Following the arrests of Brooks and Reiche, the FBI Terrorism Task Force announced it had been investigating incidents where at least 41 shunts had been placed on train tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties since January 2020. During 10 incidents, the shunts had caused malfunctions to railroad crossing signaling systems and on October 11, 2020, a train with hazardous material decoupled, which could have derailed in a residential area, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Investigators believe the incidents are examples of environmental terrorism after someone anonymously claimed responsibility on an anarchist website to a shunt placed January 2020 in protest of a natural gas pipeline being built in B.C.

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