December 14, 2017
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Runner accepts plea deal, fined $500 for drinking atop Katahdin

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Updated:

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek will pay a $500 fine for drinking atop Mount Katahdin after his record-breaking Appalachian Trail run as part of a plea bargain in which two other citations were dismissed.

District Court Judge Kevin Stitham approved the plea deal during a hearing Wednesday in Millinocket District Court.

Jurek was accused of bringing alcohol, littering and bringing an oversized group to the summit, all violations of park rules. Considered civil violations under Maine law, each offense carries a fine of up to $1,000. Jurek admitted to drinking from a bottle of champagne atop the mountain as part of the deal.

Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy said that the guilty plea came with a fine about $300 greater than a public drinking summons would typically carry under state law in acknowledgement of the “totality of the circumstances” surrounding the July 12 incident.

The circumstances included Jurek’s acknowledging park rules with park officials before breaking them, Almy said.

“I think the park authorities felt that they had an understanding with him,” Almy said Wednesday. “I think they were somewhat miffed” to see the media event atop the mountain that followed Jurek’s run.

Jurek was not in court and was in Colorado, said his attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta. Jurek readily admitted to drinking alcohol at the summit but denied littering or having any control over the media that covered his ascent and celebration, McKee said.

McKee said the settlement was “bittersweet” for Jurek. Jurek began his 2,180-mile journey north on May 27 from Springer Mountain in Georgia and finished his trek on July 12 in 46 days, 8 hours, 8 minutes. That beat the previous record of 46 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes set by long-distance runner Jennifer Pharr Davis in 2011. Then came the citations, McKee said.

“It was a shame that it ended that way,” McKee said.

The settlement conference was delayed for about 45 minutes because of Jurek’s not answering cellphone calls from McKee. Stitham had agreed to waive requiring Jurek to appear with the understanding that McKee had authority to speak for him or could contact him instantly.

“Apparently this has turned out not to be the case,” Stitham said after reading aloud in court portions of McKee’s letter promising those conditions.

The hearing resumed after Jurek’s wife contacted Jurek, who forgot his cellphone, and relayed McKee’s messages, McKee said.

Almy said after the hearing that the littering and oversized group citations would have been difficult to prove.

The littering consisted of Jurek’s spraying enough champagne over the rocks so that park rangers said “it smelled like a redemption center,” Almy said. And it was an open question whether prosecutors could prove that Jurek had control over the media that accompanied him.

McKee also objected after the hearing to park officials’ description of the media coverage as corporate sponsored. The only corporate element to the event, he said, was Jurek’s headband.

McKee said that park workers never spoke to Jurek about park rules before his ascent but rather to a film crew that accompanied Jurek.

“Scott consumed alcohol on the summit; he didn’t know it was a violation; the people that brought it up were told it was OK to do so,” McKee said in an email. “It was a far, far cry from how it has been reported as some sort of a wild party atop [Mount] Katahdin with corporate banners a-flyin.”

Jurek’s incident was one among several conflicts between Baxter State Park and through-hikers, people who travel the entire Appalachian Trail, in which the hikers have flouted park rules, park Director Jensen Bissell has said. The incidents have occurred over the last several years, and park and federal trail officials are addressing them.

Bissell, who was in court, was satisfied with the settlement. Park officials, he said, are obliged to honor the park’s mission. Baxter State Park is a refuge from modernity where the preservation of nature is paramount. According to its mission statement, the Appalachian Trail’s goal is to provide first “for maximum outdoor recreation potential as an extended trail.”

Jurek’s celebration occurred “in a very commercial media atmosphere that might be detrimental to other people’s experience in the park,” Bissell said.

“We’re glad this is over,” Bissell said, “and we can move on to more important things.”


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