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Next stop jail for Central Whidbey woman in neighborhood dispute
A cantankerous Central Whidbey woman will go to jail Tuesday after losing a dispute involving her neighbors, county officials and Puget Sound Energy.
Carol Magee, a retiree who can be combative yet remains eminently likable to those not on her bad side, took her long-standing disagreement with neighbors and a plethora of county officials to Superior Court last week, resulting in an unusual criminal trial.
In what she sees as a fight of “David and Goliath” proportions — though “tilting at windmills” may be the more apt idiom — she has put the county’s justice system to the test over the last few years. Ultimately, the system held up and she lost, but she warns that she’s not done yet.
In court, Magee represented herself, took the stand to question herself and even admitted to the central element of the crime. It took the jury in Island County Superior Court only about 20 minutes of deliberation to find Magee guilty of malicious mischief in the second degree for backing her truck into a roadside electrical transformer box over and over again.
Judge Vickie Churchill sentenced Magee to 30 days in jail. She will begin serving her time in “the big house,” as she refers to it, next week.
Magee’s anger centers on a dispute with her neighbors over an easement on Grateful Acres Place, a private road that runs on her property. Before the criminal trial, Magee also represented herself in court in a number of civil cases about the easement. She lost every time.
Undeterred and ever strong-willed — some would say stubborn — Magee is still convinced that she’s in the right and plans to appeal when she gets out of jail. She sees herself as the little guy fighting corrupt officials or, as she said in court, the “Dutch mafia.” She’s serious about her accusations, but she has a great sense of humor about her predicament.
“I’m not crazy, I’m just mad,” she said in an interview.
Magee won’t be a typical jail inmate, if there is such a thing. She’s a 68-year-old widow from California, a retired flight attendant, the owner of a 10-acre hobby farm with 29 horses and, she explained, “a first-time offender.” After being sentenced, she called a friend to find out if she can bring her own underwear to wear in jail. (She can’t.)
Magee is probably best known on Central Whidbey for the signs she places on her property bordering Houston Road. To irritate her neighbors, she has signs up renaming the private road “Liars Lane.” A more recent sign states, “Good old boys. This old gal is coming for you.” Other signs have called out Judge Churchill, Sgt. Russ Lindner with the sheriff’s office and her neighbors by name.
Magee moved to Whidbey Island about six years ago, about a year after her husband passed away. Her relationship with several neighbors turned sour over the private road. It runs on the edge of her property, but there’s an easement that allows her neighbors to use it. At one point she put a gate across the road, which she felt was her right, but which obviously upset her neighbors.
Magee also had a related property dispute with Puget Sound Energy. She thought the company had violated her rights by placing a power transformer box on her property along the private road in order to supply power to her neighbors. At the trial, she and a neighbor offered dueling testimony about whether the company had the proper easement to place the box on her property.
On the morning of Jan. 21, Magee said she was angry at PSE for turning off her power after she failed to make payments. She drove her pickup to the private road, struck a phone pedestal on the side of the road and then struck the transformer box.
During the trial, Deputy Prosecutor Dan Mitchell played a video that neighbors, Larry and Mary Leonard, took of Magee’s truck as she backed over the transformer again and again.
“She was like the Eveready bunny,” Mary Leonard testified. “She kept going forward and backwards and forward and backwards.”
Lindner, who’s now retired, handled the investigation into the vandalism and testified in court. Over the years, he’s handled a multitude of complaints against Magee.
Representing herself, Magee had trouble with the formalities of the trial. Judge Churchill kept reminding her that she couldn’t simply make statements, but had to ask the witnesses questions. She got in a zinger when she asked Lindner if he was willing to take a lie detector test. Mitchell quickly objected and Churchill sustained.
Magee said that Deputy Prosecutor Eric Ohme, of whom she is rather fond, offered her a plea bargain that would have allowed her to avoid jail. She refused, saying she wanted her day in court. And she got it.
In court, Mitchell was patient and polite with Magee. But at sentencing, he recommended that Churchill sentence Magee to 30 days in jail, which is in the middle of the standard sentencing range.
“People need to be held accountable for that kind of intentional destruction of property,” he said in an interview.
Churchill agreed, noting that Magee didn’t show any remorse. She sentenced Magee to the 30 days and ordered her to pay fines, fees and $1,380 restitution to Puget Sound Energy.