PG&E had tried to get out of any criminal charges over four deaths in the 2020 Zogg Fire, but a Shasta County judge has just ruled that the utility can be taken to trial for involuntary manslaughter and a slew of other charges.
When Shasta County and other NorCal regions suffered through the 2020 Zogg Fire (which started a couple weeks after the orange sky day), the determined cause of the fire was an all-too-common story. PG&E equipment was deemed responsible for starting the blaze, in this case one of their distribution lines catching fire when a pine tree fell on it. The Zogg Fire would burn 88 square miles, destroy more than 200 homes, and kill four people (among them an eight-year-old girl).
The Shasta County District Attorney did announce criminal manslaughter charges against PG&E in July of the following year, and filed 31 criminal charges a couple months later. PG&E of course shrugged off the charges, with their then-new CEO Patti Poppe saying “the tree that started the [Zogg] fire is one of over 8 million trees within striking distance to our lines."
That argument has not brought the desired results in court. PG&E asked that all of the Shasta County DA’s charges be thrown out, but the Associated Press reports that a judge ruled the involuntary manslaughter charges against PG&E can move forward. Their arraignment has been scheduled for February 15.
On e one hand, PG&E lucked out because the judge did toss out most of the charges. Twenty criminal charges were dismissed. On the other hand, the judge kept all the most serious charges, with 11 charges proceeding. KCRA details all the charges, noting that “The felony charges include four counts of involuntary manslaughter, causing a fire that causes great bodily injury, recklessly causing a fire and arson during a state of emergency.”
The charges that were tossed sound pretty minor: “misdemeanor charges including pollution, negligent emission of air contaminants and reckless emissions of air pollution were dropped,” that station reports.
PG&E said in a statement to the AP, "We believe PG&E did not commit any crimes," and "We continue our work to make it safe and make it right, both by resolving claims from past fires and through our work to make our system safer every day."
OK so how many manslaughter charges is this now for PG&E? The utility pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp Fire, but with regards to the Kincade and Dixie fires, they managed to settle with the “admitting no crimes” defense. And in terms of the Zogg Fire, the utility is only charged at this point, but they will face trial unless they squeak out another similar settlement.
Related: PG&E Has Now Been Charged With Manslaughter In 2020 Zogg Fire [SFist]
Image via California Conservation Corps