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Railroad crossing arms down with rail cars at a crossing. Whatcom News file photo

After 1 Bellingham woman pled guilty, the jury returns guilty verdict for other accused of railroad sabotage

SEATTLE, Wash. — Jurors in US District Court in Seattle deliberated about 3 hours over the evidence presented in a 2-day trial against 1 of 2 Bellingham women charged with sabotaging rail lines in Bellingham. Their verdict of guilty was announced today, September 9th. The women were charged with violence against a railroad carrier.

Samantha Frances Brooks, age 28, and Ellen Brennan Reiche, age 24, were arrested the night of Saturday, November 28, 2020, after they were contacted by law enforcement while placing a ‘shunt’ on BNSF Railway tracks.  According to a press release from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Assistant United States Attorney Sok Jiang told the jury during her closing argument, Reiche “disrupted the signal system designed to stop trains from crashing into each other or crashing into cars…. A car driving through the intersection (near the shunt) would not have warning that a train was coming.”

The jury heard how, on the night of November 28, 2020, Reiche and co-defendant Brooks were observed on video surveillance walking on the tracks near a crossing in Bellingham and Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded. The defendants were detained for trespassing. Reiche was carrying a paper bag containing wire, a drill with a brush head, a magnetic adhesive and gloves and a shunt was found on the tracks near where the deputies had first encountered the 2 women. The wire was similar to the wire used in 41 other shunts found on BNSF tracks since January 19, 2020. The shunt that was placed on the tracks could have interfered with the railroad crossing at Cliffside Drive, located in a residential neighborhood.

Shunts can also trigger an automatic braking system on a train. Emergency braking can cause a portion of the train to decouple from the engine and decoupling has the potential to cause a derailment.

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A train carrying crude oil, among other cargo, was scheduled to come through that area soon after this incident.

Brooks pled guilty in July to a charge of interference with a railroad signaling system. Her sentencing is scheduled for October 8th. Reiche’s sentencing is scheduled for December 17th. Both women face up to 20 years in prison.

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