Montana Arson Trial Unveils Twisted Fentanyl Addiction Connection: Defendant Accused of Setting Fires for ‘One More Fix’

POLSON, Montana – A trial began on Monday for accused arsonist Craig McCrea, who has been held on a $1 million bond since May 2022 in connection with four fires that occurred in July 2021. The largest of these fires, known as Boulder 2700, burned thousands of acres and forced evacuations in Finley Point. Prosecutors allege that McCrea started the fires to benefit his father, a firefighter for the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes.

During the opening statements, Assistant Attorney General Thorin Geist told jurors that McCrea associated the smell of smoke with the opportunity to use fentanyl. The prosecution plans to present evidence linking McCrea to the fires and his addiction to fentanyl. McCrea’s defense attorney, Shandor Badarudden, argued that McCrea’s former girlfriend, Crystal Kline, was the real culprit and had a motive to set the fires.

Jurors heard from several wildland fire investigators who testified that the fires were human-caused, ruling out accidental or natural causes. One investigator discovered evidence near the Jette fire, including footprints and an empty pack of cigarettes, suggesting intentional ignition.

Former Lake County Detective Dan Yonkin provided details about his investigation into the fires, including video footage from surveillance cameras. Yonkin identified a vehicle that traveled to and from the Boulder 2700 fire location, and eventually obtained a Geofence warrant and access to cell-phone tower data. This led him to Kline, who initially denied involvement but later agreed to provide a DNA sample and participate in recorded conversations with McCrea and his father.

Throughout the proceedings, McCrea maintained his innocence, claiming he did not start any fires. If convicted on all counts of arson, McCrea faces up to 20 years in prison and hefty fines. The trial is expected to continue for about a week, with additional testimony from witnesses, including McCrea’s father and Kline.

The presiding judge for the trial is retired Missoula District Court Judge Robert L. Deschamps.