PG&E to stand trial in manslaughter over deadly California fire

REDDING, Calif. (AP) — and will stand trial for manslaughter over his role in the 2020 Northern California wildfire that killed four people, a judge ruled Wednesday.

A judge in Shasta County ruled after a preliminary hearing that there was enough evidence to stand trial on 11 felony and misdemeanor charges, including manslaughter and reckless arson, for the nation’s largest public utility.

Twenty other charges were dropped.

The company, which is the country’s largest utility company, pleaded not guilty to the charges last June and was due to be charged on Feb. 15.

In this file photo taken September 27, 2020, a house is on fire on Platinum Road during the Zogg Fire near Ono, California. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope, File)

The Zogg fire, which began in September 2020, has swept through a wooded county south of the Oregon border. The blaze burned 88 square miles (228 square kilometers) of land and destroyed more than 200 homes before it was brought under control.

Four people died, including an 8-year-old girl and her mother, who caught fire while trying to leave home.

State fire officials said the fire started when a pine fell on a PG&E distribution line. The California Public Utilities Commission last year offered to fine PG&E more than $155 million, saying it failed to remove the tree, one of two that were marked for removal.

Company executives are not prosecuted, and the company can be fined and ordered to take remedial action.

PG&E said in a statement that the loss of life was a tragedy, and while the company agrees with the conclusion that its equipment caused the fire, “we believe PG&E did not commit any crime.”

“We continue our work to make it safe and proper, both through resolving claims related to past fires and through our work to make our system safer every day,” the utility said.

PG&E has approximately 16 million customers in central and northern California. The company has been accused of causing some of California’s worst wildfires by neglecting its aging electrical grid.

In total, PG&E has been blamed for more than 30 wildfires since 2017, which have destroyed more than 23,000 homes and businesses and killed more than 100 people.

Last year, former executives and directors agreed to pay $117 million to settle a lawsuit over the California wildfires of 2017 and 2018, including the 2018 camp fire that killed 85 people and destroyed much of the city of Paradise in the county. Butte.

The complaint was an offshoot of the $13.5 billion settlement PG&E reached with wildfire victims when the utility was bankrupt from January 2019 to June 2020.

PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter for lighting a fire and was fined $4 million, the maximum penalty allowed.

Also last year, PG&E agreed to pay more than $55 million to avoid prosecution under a settlement with prosecutors in six counties affected by the 2021 Dixie Fire and 2019 Kincade Fire.

The Dixie Fire burned down over 1,300 houses and other structures. The fire was caused by a tree hitting power lines west of a dam in the Sierra Nevada.

Top photo: In this file photo from September 27, 2020, a house is burning on Platinum Road at the site of the Zogg fire near Ono, California. Pacific Gas & Electric on Thursday, June 9, 2022, pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and other charges it faced after its equipment started the 2020 Northern California wildfire that killed four people and hundreds of houses were destroyed. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope, file)

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