Charges Dropped Against Youths in Tennessee Wildfires

Prosecutors unable to prove the youth were responsible

 

In this Dec. 9, 2016, file photo, the remains of laundry machines sit on the site of a burned inn near downtown Gatlinburg, Tenn. District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said Friday, June 30, 2017, that two juveniles would no longer face charges for the wildfire because there were other contributing factors, such as strong winds and down power lines, that contributed to the seriousness of the blaze that killed 14 people. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)

 

JONATHAN MATTISE, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped arson charges against two juveniles in connection with the Tennessee wildfires that killed 14 people and tore through thousands of homes and businesses in November, a law enforcement official said Friday.

See also  Horse Park Fire Entrapment

In December, Dunn announced charges of aggravated arson against the juveniles in connection with a fire in the remote Chimney Tops area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park that officials have said blew several miles (kilometers) into Gatlinburg, ravaging the vacation town. The juveniles are from Tennessee, but not Sevier County, where the fires spread, Dunn has said.

But after months of investigating, prosecutors can’t prove the youth were responsible because there were other factors contributing to the seriousness of the fires, such as 80-mph (130-kph) winds and downed power lines that ignited flames, District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said in a statement.

“Because of this intervening weather event, the state is unable to prove the criminal responsibility of the two juveniles beyond a reasonable doubt for the devastation that occurred outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” Dunn said.

See also  Seven Injured in Tanker Crash Landing at California Airport

Attorney Gregory P. Isaacs, who represented one of the boys charged, said Friday that the evidence showed the juveniles didn’t cause the death and devastation.

He said the prosecution showed good judgment by dropping the charges after what appeared to be an “unfortunate rush to judgment.”

“Imagine, you are a young adolescent and you are accused of committing one of the most heinous crimes in East Tennessee,” Isaacs said at a news conference Friday. “But they’ve been very strong throughout this process.”

Dunn also cited jurisdiction issues. Any future decision about whether to charge the youths with setting the fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is now up to the U.S. Department of Justice, he said.

See also  Forest Thinning Project Saved Homes from Fires, But Can It be Duplicated?

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Nancy Stallard Harr said her office will review the evidence to see if further action is appropriate.

Isaacs called the boy whom he represented a “very fine young man from a very fine family.” He said the boy’s mother was grateful and tearful Friday at the news.

Isaacs said that under state law, the identity and location of the two juveniles remains confidential. The Associated Press generally does not identify juveniles involved with crimes.

Almost all information about the fires was kept under a judicial gag order because of the juvenile prosecution. That changed when a judge ruled in early June that the exemption from public disclosure was too broad, and should have only pertained to the children’s identities.

Isaacs said the dropped charges should be viewed as a positive for those affected by the Gatlinburg fires. A big question has been answered, he said.

“I think people aren’t looking for scapegoats,” Isaacs said. “I think they’re looking for answers.”

All contents © copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Topics

Prosecutors unable to prove the youth were responsible     JONATHAN MATTISE, Associated Press NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped arson charges against two juveniles in connection with the Tennessee wildfires that killed 14 people and tore through thousands of homes and businesses in November, a law enforcement official said Friday. In December, Dunn […]

Get The Wildland Firefighter Newsletter

Related Articles

Wildfire Threatens Unspoiled GA Island Rich in History

Wildfire Threatens Unspoiled GA Island Rich in History

  By RUSS BYNUM Associated Press ST. CATHERINES ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Wildfires sparked by lightning have scorched hundreds of acres on this unspoiled island off the Georgia coast, where crews are battling to protect plantation ruins, the remnants of a 16th century...

Biden Signs Off on Hefty Pay Raise for Federal Firefighters

Biden Signs Off on Hefty Pay Raise for Federal Firefighters

By AAMER MADHANI Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has signed off on giving federal wildland firefighters a hefty raise for the next two fiscal years, a move that affects more than 16,000 firefighters and comes as much of the West braces for a...

How’re You Feeling These Days?

How’re You Feeling These Days?

When I first started firefighting as a seasonal with the Forest Service, my only stress had to do with my physical stamina to keep up with the crew and making sure my boots weren’t causing me any hot spots. Did I have enough water? Should I double lunch today? By the...