3 plead not guilty in Malibu wildfire

first_imgThree men pleaded not guilty Friday to causing a wildfire that destroyed 50 homes in Malibu, and their lawyers said outside court they were being made scapegoats by an outraged community. Even the judge took the unusual step of denying from the bench that his Malibu neighbors had pressured him. “Nobody’s putting pressure on me,” said Superior Court Judge Michael K. Kellogg, who works in the San Fernando Valley but lives in Malibu. “No one has come down from Malibu and knocked on my door and said, `Hey Judge, we know where you live!”‘ Five men have been charged with recklessly causing the Nov. 24 fire that swept through 4,000 acres of Malibu canyon land. Six firefighters were hurt and 50 homes and 35 other buildings were destroyed. “There is nothing to show me that there wasn’t this callousness and a high level of carelessness,” Kellogg said. “And all the sorrys in the world don’t change that.” The judge did lower Franks’ bail from $230,000 to $100,000, saying that, according to witnesses, he tried to put out the fire. “Everybody else was packing up their gear and getting ready to head for the parking lot,” the judge said. Franks’ public defender, Douglas Jay Goldstein, said his client still cannot raise the money and would spend the holidays in jail. All five are charged with recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing fire to inhabited structures. They also face an allegation that the crimes were committed in an area that was in a sate of emergency. An extreme fire danger warning was in effect for the area at the time. If convicted, they could face more than a decade each in prison. Arson investigators said food wrappers and precut logs led them to determine the blaze started with an illegal campfire in a cave-like depression on state park land in Corral Canyon that was known as a favorite drinking and partying spot for young people. Sparks and embers from the fire were pushed by hot, dry Santa Ana winds into surrounding brush. Authorities have said a group of people started the fire and had been partying in the cave before Anderson, Coppock and Franks arrived. Their attorneys contend that they tried to put out the fire before they left and believed they had succeeded. Anderson kicked a burning log out of the cave and told Franks to stomp out the embers, according to an investigator’s report. After Friday’s hearing, attorneys repeated contentions that the three have been made into scapegoats.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champAttorneys entered not guilty pleas for Brian David Franks, 27; William Thomas Coppock, 23; and Brian Alan Anderson, 22, all of Los Angeles. The judge scheduled a preliminary hearing Jan. 7 to determine whether there is enough evidence to hold the three for trial. Dean Allen Lavorante, 19, and Eric Matthew Ullman, 18, of Culver City face arraignment in February. They and Anderson are free on bail. During Friday’s hearing, the judge denied requests to free Coppock and Franks from jail without bail until trial. Their attorneys have argued the men were not a danger to the community. Prosecutors said their actions during the blaze put other people’s lives in danger. last_img

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