TRUCKEE — A former towing company employee and his employer were sentenced last month by a Plumas County judge for illegally dumping waste fuel on Highway 70 in Portola during filming of the “Hell on the Highway” reality TV documentary, officials said.
Former Truckee resident and cast member William Earnest Slade III pleaded guilty to one felony and one misdemeanor pollution charge and was sentenced on Nov. 2 to 45 days in Plumas County jail, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. He was also ordered to pay more than $1,700 in fines and $4,600 in restitution and will be on probation for three years.
Elizabeth Cannon-Lynch, of Verdi, Nev., also pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge and was ordered to serve 100 hours of community service and pay more than $1,900 in fines and $4,600 in restitution. She will be on probation for three years.
“The defendants in this case displayed a shocking disregard for the environment, for the safety of members of our community traveling Highway 70, of the law and common sense, all in the name of greed,” said Matthew Carr, deputy district attorney with the California District Attorney’s Association, in a statement.
The crime took place in early February and was captured during filming of “Hell on the Highway,” according to Fish and Game. The 10-part TV documentary, which is currently airing on the National Geographic channel, chronicles tow truck workers and officials with Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol who battle the snow every winter to keep Donner Pass and Interstate 80 open.
According to Fish and Game, Cannon-Lynch, former owner of Running Bear Towing (where Slade was employed), received a call on Feb. 7 regarding a railroad truck in Portola that needed assistance after the driver mixed more than 40 gallons of diesel and unleaded fuel in its fuel tank.
Slade went to Portola after securing an electric pump and a 30-gallon plastic trash can, and once there, began extracting the waste while a Morningstar Entertainment crew filmed the events.
Waste oil and other petroleum products are classified as hazardous material in California for the purpose of transport and disposal. Neither Cannon-Lynch nor Slade possessed the proper permits to remove, transport or dispose the waste fuel, according to Fish and Game.
When Running Bear Towing was called for statement, the company’s listed numbers in both Truckee and Reno was no longer in service.
Steve Ulrich, a Fish and Game warden, said it’s “doubtful” the company is still in business, adding that the company was having financial troubles during the shooting of the series.
It took until March 23 for Fish and Game to obtain the footage, said case officer and department warden Nick Buckler, with it ultimately being provided by National Geographic’s headquarters in New York City. Ulrich added that “the production company (America’s Star Media, a subsidiary for Morningstar Entertainment) basically stonewalled us.”
The obtained footage shows the garbage can leaked and could hold only a portion of the fuel. Slade is seen in the footage leaving and returning with another trash can before leaving the scene again with the two garbage cans — one stacked within another — and fuel spreading out from his work area at the pump, over two lanes of Highway 70, and into a storm drain leading to the nearby Feather River. Portola is located a little more than an hour north of Truckee.
Slade was arrested in Truckee on March 29 by the Department of Fish and Game with assistance from the Truckee Police Department, Buckler said.
The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, CHP and California Department of Toxic Substances Control assisted in the investigation, Buckler said.
— The Sierra Sun’s Margaret Moran contributed to this report.