Ed Colombi Jr. was guilty. Now he’s not. Maybe.
Even though Colombi Jr. had already cut a deal with the DA’s office, even though he'd already agreed to plead guilty to stealing nearly half a mil in lumber from a fisherman’s Fort Bragg log yard four years ago, Colombi Jr. was in Ten Mile Court Monday morning to ask if he could withdraw the plea and hire an expert—someone who could vouch for the value of all that vanished timber.
The fisherman, David McCutcheon, had driven from Oregon—where he now lives—to witness what he thought was a sentencing. Instead, Judge Jonathan Lehan allowed Colombi Jr.’s attorney, Richard Petersen, to file a motion to withdraw the guilty plea. It would be an “abuse of discretion” if he didn’t, Lehan said.
Deputy DA Tim Stoen, visibly irritated, shrugged his shoulders and left the courtroom. “That’s the best I could do,” he said.
McCutcheon had leased an acre of land on Odom Lane north of Fort Bragg from Ed Columbi Sr. in 1998, and was able to store his doug fir and redwood timber there—preserved timber dredged from the bottom of local rivers worth lots of money. McCutcheon salvaged 80 sinker logs, and was able to mill an estimated $70,000 worth of lumber, which was stored on the lot, along with a measly $300,000 worth of un-milled lumber.
When Colombi Sr. passed away in 2004, the lot on Odom Lane transferred to his son, Colombi Jr., who has admitted to impulsive thievery while under the influence of methadone. In 2006, McCutcheon told Colombi Jr. he was moving his business to Elk in late May and agreed to have the logs out by mid-July. When McCutcheon showed up to the lot in June, he found a smoldering burn pile. His logs were gone—“abandoned”—according to Columbi Jr., who gave Robert Russell the okay to haul the wood away and clean up the lot. Russell, Colombi’s co-defendant, is missing.
The case picks up again Friday June 11 at 9 a.m. in front of Judge Richard Henderson in Ukiah.