Saturday, December 22, 2007

Judge Denies Corral Fire Suspects' bail request

Judge Denies Corral Fire Suspects' Request To Be Released

Two men suspected of accidentally starting a destructive wildfire in Malibu were denied Friday a request to be released on their own recognizance while awaiting trial.

William Thomas Coppock, 23, and Brian David Franks, 27, of Los Angeles, are charged with recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing fire to inhabited structures in connection with the Nov. 24 Corral Fire that destroyed 53 houses and severely damaged another 23.

Dean Allen Lavorante, 19, and Eric Matthew Ullman, 18, both of Culver City, and Brian William Anderson, 22, of Los Angeles, face the same charges. They are free on bail.
All five also face an allegation that the crimes were committed "during and within an area of a state of emergency."They are accused of going to a cave and notorious party spot on state park land overlooking Malibu to drink beer with girls and light a campfire when the area was under a Red Flag warning because of high winds and low humidity.

Instead of a routine bail hearing Friday on whether the two men were risks to the community if freed while awaiting trial, Judge Michael K. Kellogg laid out the prosecution's case against all five suspects."There is nothing to show me that there wasn't this callousness and a high level of carelessness," Kellogg said. "And all the sorries in the world don't change that."Kellogg rejected requests by attorneys for the two men that they be released on their own recognizance.

However, the judge noted that according to sheriff's reports, Franks had at least tried to put out some of the fire and lowered his bond to $100,000.Coppock's bail was reduced by $10,000 due to an earlier math error, to $230,000, and his attorney said he would post bail later Friday.
The judge said he spent a great deal of time reviewing the investigative reports and noted that the allegation of causing a fire during a state of emergency requires a sentence of prison time.
He said investigators believe that Anderson, Coppock and Franks stole packages of precut firewood from the Ralphs supermarket in Malibu and added that wood to a small campfire already started in the cave by Lavorante and Ullman.

The first two men apparently left the cave after the arrival of the other men, who allegedly drank 18 to 30 cans of beer and some other liquor.Investigators believe Anderson kicked burning logs out of the cave and into surrounding brush and told Frank to put it out, according to a sheriff's report read by one of the attorneys."Anderson kicked a burning log out of the cave and said, 'Here, put this out,'" Goldstein said. "Guys were laughing."

Anderson has already been released on $240,000 bail.
Earlier, the attorneys said their clients are being made scapegoats and that instead of starting the fire, they tried to put it out. The three Los Angeles men will next face a preliminary hearing Jan. 7 in Van Nuys. The Culver City teenagers will be arraigned there Feb. 14.

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.

"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer." --Abraham Lincoln

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