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Case Number: 2:20-cr-00215-RSM
Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Washington (King County)
Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office
Description: Seattle, WA: Violence against a railroad carrier criminal defense lawyer represented Defendant Ellen Brennan Reiche, age 28, who was arrested on the BNSF Railway tracks near Bellingham, near midnight on November 28, 2020. She was charged with placing a ‘shunt’ – a device that interferes with train signals – on the tracks.
On the night of November 28, 2020, Reiche and co-defendant Samantha Frances Brooks, 24, were observed on video surveillance walking on the tracks near a crossing in Bellingham. Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene. The defendants were detained for trespassing, and a shunt was found on the tracks near where the deputies had first encountered them. Reiche was carrying a paper bag containing wire, a drill with a brush head, a magnetic adhesive and gloves. The wire was similar to the wire used in the shunting incidents. The shunt that was placed on the tracks could have interfered with the railroad crossing guard at Cliffside Drive in Bellingham. A train carrying crude oil, among other cargo, was scheduled to come through that area soon after this incident.
In her closing argument, Assistant United States Attorney Sok Jiang told the jury, 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 FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force worked with BNSF police to investigate the placement of 41 shunts on the BNSF tracks since January 19, 2020. The shunt is comprised of wire that is stretched between the rails and often fastened with magnets, disrupting the systems that indicate a train is on the tracks. On ten occasions, shunts were placed in areas that disrupt the crossing guards where the tracks cross streets, so vehicles could have tried to cross the tracks unaware of the oncoming train. On the night of October 11, 2020, multiple shunts were placed in three different locations in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. The shunts triggered an automatic braking system on a train that was transporting hazardous and combustible material. The emergency braking then caused a portion of the train to decouple from the engine. Decoupling has the potential to cause a derailment—in this case—of tanker cars of flammable gas in a residential area.
Co-defendant Brooks pleaded guilty July 9, 2021, to interference with a railroad signaling system. Brooks faces up to 20 years in prison when sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Martinez on October 8, 2021. Chief Judge Martinez will determine the appropriate sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes agents from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in connection with the BNSF Railway Police. Critical investigative assistance is being provided by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Philip Kopczynski and Sok Tea Jiang.
Violence Against Railroad Carriers - 18:1992(a)(5), (a)(10), (c)(1) and 2
Outcome: 09/09/2021 68 Minute Entry for proceedings held before Judge Ricardo S. Martinez- CRD: Laurie Cuaresma; AUSA: Tom Kopczinski, Sok Jiang; Def Cnsl: Jesse Cantor, Chris Sanders; Court Reporter: Nickie Drury; Time of Hearing: 9:45 AM; JURY TRIAL-DAY 3 Jury resumes deliberations on 9/9/2021. Jury returns verdict finding Ellen Brennan Reiche (1) Guilty on Count 1. At request of defense counsel, jury is polled. The Court thanks the jurors for their service and the jury is excused. Trial exhibits returned to counsel. The Court orders the preparation of a Presentence Report. Sentencing set for 12/17/2021 at 10:00 AM before Judge Ricardo S. Martinez. Defendant remains on bond. (LC) Modified on 9/9/2021 (LC). (Entered: 09/09/2021)
09/09/2021 69 TRIAL EXHIBIT LIST re Ellen Brennan Reiche. (LC) (Entered: 09/09/2021)
09/09/2021 70 Jury Instructions as to Ellen Brennan Reiche (LC) (Entered: 09/09/2021)
09/09/2021 71 JURY VERDICT [REDACTED] as to Ellen Brennan Reiche Guilty on count 1. (cc: USPO, PTS) (LC) (Entered: 09/09/2021)
09/09/2021 72 JURY VERDICT as to Ellen Brennan Reiche Guilty on count 1. (This filing includes sealed documents) (cc: USPO, PTS) (LC) (Entered: 09/09/2021)