Hope Clarke, a teacher’s aide from a small mountain town in Wyoming, may think twice about her next vacation.
The bleary-eyed tourist was led away in handcuffs from the cruise ship Fascination at dawn on Friday, following a spot security check at the Port of Miami.
She spent a precious day of a romantic summer break behind bars — all because of a bag of marshmallows that got her in trouble during last summer’s vacation.
Her story, an odd mix of bungling federal bureaucracy and national security jitters, came out Friday in U.S. District Court in Miami. It began with a bench warrant out of a Wyoming federal court, alleging Clarke had failed to pay a $50 ticket last summer. Her name wound up in a federal database.
She’d been cited for an obscure federal offense, “improper food storage at a national park,” after leaving a bag of marshmallows out at a campsite at Yellowstone Park. The park has strict food storage laws intended to thwart mooching and marauding bears.
Clarke, 32, insisted in court that she used her credit card to pay the $50 ticket because park officials had confiscated her camping gear and wouldn’t give it back until the fine was paid. Studying a copy of the citation, U.S. Magistrate John J. O’Sullivan agreed she’d made good on the fine. “This ticket has been paid. This woman should not be in custody,” the judge said, ordering Clarke released immediately.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Outerbridge protested that might be “some discrepancy” between Clarke’s story and the documents, the judge quickly added, “Seven hours in jail, I think, is a suitable punishment for leaving marshmallows out at a camp site.”
“I apologize to you,” O’Sullivan added, looking down from the bench at Clarke, who was fighting back tears.
Gee guys, thanks for protecting us from people who leave their marshmallows behind. We all feel safer now…