Year in Review

The 2002 Hall of Shame

Terry Lynn Barton

"I did it," Terry Lynn Barton told one investigator. "It was a stupid thing." And with those words, the 38-year-old U.S. Forest Service employee became one of the few people in the public eye to honestly appraise -- if only for a flash -- their fuelish actions in 2002.

But Barton was no beacon of light cutting through the haze. In a year full of ashes, she still rates top billing for her shameful, flameful behavior. She's now part of Colorado folklore, ranking somewhere near Alfred Packer and Molly Brown, a bit shy of John Elway. Consider that to this day, Chicagoans blame a Mrs. O'Leary (and her bovine accomplice) for carelessly igniting what became the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 -- and never mind that historians hold her innocent.

Smoke, fire, ire: Even single mother Barton's sad tale of divorce and stress didn't extinguish the need to roast someone for the Hayman fire, a 138,000-acre wildfire that took 133 homes and one life and required thousands of firefighters and $39 million to contain. And it didn't help that Barton couldn't stick to one story about what happened on Saturday, June 8, at a campfire ring about 1.2 miles from Park County Road 77. Barton radioed for help at 4:55 p.m. that afternoon, and volunteers from tiny Lake George came to engage the fire. Initially, she blamed criminals in a gold van for starting the blaze that she'd tried to fight on her own, a blond smoke-eater whom one friend called "an awesome girl."

But then questions flared up. What gold van? What criminals?

After first denying that she'd started the fire, Barton blurted out the story that, while on patrol, she'd stopped to burn a love letter from her ex-husband in the ring -- despite a statewide ban on fires. Although she later recanted the "stupid thing" story, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch, himself no stranger to hot issues, ruled that it was admissible. With that defense bridge burned, earlier this month Barton accepted a plea agreement that will give her six years in federal prison. Final sentencing is now set for February.

But Barton isn't out of the frying pan yet. Teller County, which sustained the most damage from the Hayman fire, recently filed a fourth-degree arson charge against her.

So here's a toast to Terry Barton: May she roast in our Hall of Shame. And remember: Only you can start forest fires!

Congressman Tom Tancredo

U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo went to the head of the classless when he took on Jesus Apodoca, an Aurora High School honor student who happens to be an illegal immigrant.

Apodoca's transgression? Trying to qualify for in-state tuition at the University of Colorado -- and talking about his dream to the Denver Post. With that, Tancredo -- who's been doing a slow burn over immigration for years -- moved to full hothead status, suggesting that the INS deport Apodaca and his entire family. The conservative Republican had already angered the White House when he said that President George W. Bush wasn't tough enough on immigration: "The President is not on our side," he'd said, warning that an open-door policy could lead to another terrorist attack, in which case the "blood of the people killed will be on this administration and Congress." But even those who share Tancredo's disdain for the country's immigration policy found it hard to support his attack on the honor student. "I think Tom Tancredo has shot himself in the foot," said former governor Richard Lamm. "This violates people's sense of fairness."

The 57-year-old Tancredo, who says he's "deeply humbled" to be included in the Hall of Shame, insists the Apodaca incident was blown up out of proportion by the media, since he'd merely called the INS to find out what the agency did in such cases. "I wasn't going to call a press conference," he says. "I really wanted to know." Still, the headlines outlining his involvement stoked the flames, and he hasn't backed off from the heat. "The ability to flaunt the laws tells everyone else who went through hell to come here the right way that they're suckers," Tancredo declares.

And the red-hot Tancredo continued to draw fire. He vowed to stroll at the head of Denver's revived Columbus Day Parade -- if its organizers didn't surrender to critics and change the name to some "Italian Pride" theme. And stroll he did, despite death threats, and despite demonstrations by hundreds of protesters who pointed out that Columbus had wiped out the real natives and that everyone else, including Tancredo's Italian relatives, are the true immigrants.

But Tancredo's America First/Fox News-style spouting played well with constituents, and he easily retained his 6th Congressional District seat in November (despite his revelation that he'd likely break his three-term-limit promise next round). Gloating in victory, he taunted Democrats for sending a "retard" or a "retread" -- or "both" -- up against fellow GOP stalwart Senator Wayne Allard.

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Ernie Tucker
Contact: Ernie Tucker