When a small community under threat from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is hit with a repeat of one of the worst earthquakes in her state’s history, a 33-year veteran of Maine’s mounted crime enforcement team learns how to channel her natural instincts in a different way.
“I was very surprised by the speed and the magnitude of that earthquake,” said Jessica Barton, who has worked on four major criminal trials since she started for the Maine State Police in 1990.
“It’s a choice, and I knew it would be an advantage for the criminal.”
Barton has responded to more than 300 emergencies, 10 of them deadly. Some were rockslides or car accidents; others were fishery violations or crashes of abandoned boats, she said.
As a game warden for 26 years, she was also one of the five people involved in the investigation into the death of the wife of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez in a car crash.
In Alaska, she once was in charge of an FBI task force that made a 15-day stand-off with armed Native protesters at the entrance to the refuge there.
As she watched last year as the oil spill cleanup dragged on in the Gulf of Mexico for months, Barton knew she had another historic opportunity on her hands.
“I could see it was catastrophic,” she said. “It was going to be six months, maybe a year and half of continual loss of animals.”
Barton joined the Maine State Police in 1990, the same year she was named the department’s game warden. She has handled cases in the woods and in the sea, salmon fisheries and criminal cases.
But as she watched the oil spill, Barton knew something different was happening. It wasn’t just a series of environmental injuries, or a spill in the Gulf of Mexico’s mudflats. This was a massive problem that no one was dealing with right away.
“When we looked at the oil we had on the beach, it was sticky; it was icy cold, like it was in January,” she said. “But there was no indication that it was on the coast.”
As a state representative last fall, she had gotten some tentative information, but she was still mystified.
“The stuff that oil really doesn’t do is give you fluids, or breathe for you, and give you food.”
Barton looked into it. A few months later, the oil spill would be one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. And on March 15, 2010, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit the coast of Eastern Maine. This was a rare coincidence that she could identify.
“I know sometimes it’s difficult to see the outside world and what’s going on, and what the repercussions are, but it all comes together,” she said. “It’s an opportunity. My third granddaughter is the anniversary of the earthquake, but I won’t be around to celebrate the birthday.”