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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Washington woman pleads guilty in rail terrorism case

Washington woman pleads guilty in rail terrorism case

By | August 3, 2021

November 2020 incident saw shunt placed on BNSF track, causing signal malfunctions

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BNSF Railway logoBELLINGHAM, Wash. — A Bellingham woman has pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge and violence against a railroad carrier as a result of a November 2020 incident involving BNSF Railway in the Bellingham area.

The Associated Press reports Samantha Frances Brooks, 27, entered a guilty plea in July and a federal judge accepted the plea last week. She could face up to 20 years in prison, three years’ probation, and a $250,000 fine, but the government has agreed to recommend a sentence at the low end of the sentencing range as part of the plea agreement.

Ellen Brennan Reiche, 23, who was also indicted in the incident, has entered a plea of not guilty and is scheduled for trial later this month.

Brooks and Reiche were arrested after allegedly placing a shunt on BNSF Railway tracks near a grade crossing, disrupting crossing gates and triggering brakes on a train carrying hazardous materials [see “Digest: Women charged with terrorist attack on railroad …,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 1, 2020]. A U.S. Attorney’s Office press release at the time of the arrests said there had been 41 such incidents of shunts being placed on BNSF tracks in the area that year.

11 thoughts on “Washington woman pleads guilty in rail terrorism case

  1. A plea deal so probably won’t do much time if any. Could get a lot of probation after all it is in Washington.

  2. It is Federal. Don’t know what the range is, but I expect she will serve at least a few years in prison.

  3. She didn’t have a prior record of felonies. In fact she didn’t have a record of anything. Judges tend to go easy on first time offenders where no weapons or deaths are involved.

    1. JOHN RICE — Good point! Normally I’m against incarceration for first offenders — not even most murders. With some exceptions including: (1) murder for profit and (2) terrorist political crimes meant to undermine the peaceful rule of law in a democracy. If this woman’s offense meets the second criteria, I’d say throw her in prison until time ends.

  4. Plea deal, and the other defendant plead not guilty. I’d be surprised if part of the deal didn’t involve her testifying against the other.

  5. Dec. 2, 2020
    Two Washington State women have been charged with terror attacks after they were captured on camera tampering with train tracks in such a way as to risk a derailment, the federal authorities announced this week.

    The authorities, who have been investigating dozens of similar cases this year, believe the actions are intended to express solidarity with Indigenous people in Canada who oppose the construction of an oil pipeline, according to the criminal complaint.

    The women, Ellen Brennan Reiche, 23, and Samantha Frances Brooks, 27, were arrested on Saturday in Bellingham, Wash., and charged with one count of terrorist attacks and violence against railroad carriers, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington said in a statement. They appeared in the Federal District Court in Seattle on Monday and were released until their next court appearance, on Dec. 14, the office said.

    The F.B.I.’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating the placement of shunts — devices consisting of wires and magnets that interfere with the signals indicating the presence of a train — on tracks in the region since Jan. 19, the complaint said. Some shunts were hidden under rocks, it said.

    Since January, there have been 41 cases of shunts placed on the BNSF Railway tracks in Whatcom and Skagit Counties, near the border with Canada, causing crossing guard malfunctions, braking system interference and, in one case, the near derailment of tanks carrying hazardous chemicals, according to U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran.

    “These crimes endanger our community,” Mr. Moran said in the statement.

    On 10 occasions, shunts were placed in areas where tracks and streets crossed, which could put vehicles at risk of an oncoming train, the statement said. On Oct. 11, shunts were planted in three locations in the two counties, setting off a braking system on a train that was transporting hazardous and combustible material, it said.

  6. These women must have knowledge of railway technology in the use and placement of shunts. The saboteurs deserve the maximum sentence for actions that could have resulted in tremendous tragedies and deaths.

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