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PG&E Zogg Fire Hearings: Day 5 | Blog Updates

Updates on the Zogg Fire hearings on Thursday, January 26, 2023 from Shasta County Superior Court.

REDDING, Calif. — ABC10 is in court, where day 5 of PG&E’s Zogg Fire manslaughter hearing began. To catch up on day 4 of coverage, click HERE

This blog will be updated as today's court hearing continues.

4:21 p.m. PST

That's a wrap on Day 5 of the PG&E manslaughter hearing

See you on ABC10 at 6:30pm.

We'll be back in court on Tuesday at 9am.

I'm off next week. My excellent colleague Tyler Horst will update the case over on the birdsite at: https://twitter.com/tylermhorst

Credit: ABC10 / Brandon Rittiman
Courtroom doors at Shasta County Superior Court.

4:15 p.m. PST

Just judge and lawyers now in the PG&E manslaughter hearing

DA has run through today's witnesses. Now some housekeeping about evidence & witnesses.

DA atty Ben Hanna says he feels we're doing well on time: anticipates wrapping presenting the prosecution's case on Thurs, Feb 2 but he can't promise it at this point. 

Some haggling over expert air contamination witnesses. PG&E wants its expert to be able to listen to the DA expert.

4:03 p.m. PST

Another PG&E employee, John Daubenspeck, is up next in the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

His work deals with software for vegetation management.

In Feb 2019, he says, he was aware of holdover trees on Zogg Mine Rd. There was a meeting. He was unaware of any issues of "refusals"-- people who wouldn't allow work to be done.

He was super quick. And he's done.

3:55 p.m. PST

PGE manslaughter hearing prosecutors ask PG&E employee Charles Filmer if he remembers seeing estimates of a $5 - 50M cost for PG&E to have inspectors walk 360-degrees around potential strike trees.

He doesn't remember the specific figures, he says.

It's a bit awkward. DA atty Ian Frazer is holding a document with that kind of estimate on it, obtained as evidence from PG&E-- but we don't know who wrote it. 

Filmer is done.

3:36 p.m. PST

Here's the EIR for the 2020 Zogg Fire as filed with CPUC. This is how we learned PG&E was under investigation for starting it:

"CAL FIRE informed PG&E that they had taken possession of PG&E
equipment as part of CAL FIRE’s ongoing investigation into the cause of the Zogg Fire," it says.

It was filed Oct 9. The fire started Sept 27.

Credit: ABC10
The EIR for the 2020 #ZoggFire as filed with CPUC.

3:32 p.m. PST

Charles Filmer, a former PG&E employee from 1985 - 2021, is the next witness in the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

Toward the middle of that time, he was in regulatory compliance for PG&E.

He's been asked about EIR's, the brief reports that PG&E needs to file when fires start under certain circumstances. There is one for the Zogg Fire.

Filmer is sent briefly out of the room so the DA & PG&E lawyers can debate a piece of evidence...

Credit: ABC10 / Brandon Rittiman
Charles Filmer, former PG&E employee, takes the stand in Shasta County Superior Court.

3:06 p.m. PST

Forgive the muddy image, I had to shoot this off of a TV screen being used to show evidence in PG&E manslaughter hearing.

Here's what Loomis wrote in April 2019 in his notice to PG&E about tree inspections.

The following year, the Zogg Fire would start when a wounded gray pine hit PG&E's power line. Prosecutors say 2019 / 2020 inspections failed to find a gaping wound on the tree because it was on the back side of the trunk.

Credit: ABC10
A portion of a notice PG&E manager Ken Loomis wrote in an April 2019 notice to PG&E about tree inspections.

3:02 p.m. PST

Ken Loomis, a PG&E manager, provides testimony in the PG&E manslaughter hearing about his decision to flag concerns about how contracted tree inspectors did their jobs for the utility.

In April 2019, he put it in writing: warning the company that the way inspections were done could miss safety problems because crews weren't waling 360-degrees around trees.

He's off the stand but may be called back later today.

Credit: ABC10 / Brandon Rittiman
Ken Loomis, a PG&E manager, provides testimony in the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

2:49 p.m. PST

DA done on direct. PG&E atty Brad Brian now has PG&E employee Ken Loomis on cross exam in the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

Preventing wildfires was the top priority, Loomis agrees.

Brian is asking Loomis about "speak up culture," as it's known in PG&E.

"I felt emboldened to share my ideas and feedback," after hearing PG&E SVP Michael Lewis give his Challenger-disaster-O-ring talk via video, Loomis says.

2:26 p.m. PST

Loomis wrote another CAP expressing worry PG&E's contracted inspectors didn't walk 360-degrees around trees unless they saw a problem from the power lines.

"Tree defects not in plain view from the right of way will go unnoticed and tree not worked," Loomis wrote. He called it a legal liability.

Sure enough, PG&E has been charged with 31 crimes with prosecutors pointing to this as a critical issue behind the Zogg Fire.

Credit: ABC10
The tree believed to have started the Zogg Fire.

2:19 p.m. PST

On the stand in the PG&E manslaughter hearing, Loomis worried "we were not doing a sufficient inspection" to actually find all the trees that pose a risk to the lines.

He's going over a CAP filing (PG&E's internal feedback system for problems) in which he wrote about "PG&E practices being inconsistent with the letter of the law" for tree trimming.

He adds that he thought the law needed to be "fixed" in his opinion as an arborist.

On the stand in PG&E manslaughter hearing, Loomis worried "we were not doing a sufficient inspection" to actually find all the trees that pose a risk to the lines.

He's going over a CAP filing (PG&E's internal feedback system for problems) in which he wrote about "PG&E practices being inconsistent with the letter of the law" for tree trimming.

He adds that he thought the law needed to be "fixed" in his opinion as an arborist.

2:03 p.m. PST

In the PG&E manslaughter hearing, Ken Loomis says he discussed his concerns with PG&E exec Michael Lewis, a senior VP.

We're seeing a Jan 2019 email Loomis sent as feedback on potential safety problems.

Lewis had given a talk via video, using the O-ring behind the Challenger shuttle disaster as an example.

It's a long email and I can't make it all out on the courtroom screen.

1:51 p.m. PST

What is a "hazard tree?"

"I think that's a matter of debate," says Loomis. He defines it as a tree with an "increased likelihood" of falling onto a particular target (like power lines.)

We're about to get into the concern that Loomis had about 360-degree inspections of trees.

He raised the issue in PG&E's "Corrective Action Program" or CAP, which is available to anyone on PG&E's computers.

1:47 p.m. PST

Loomis & his team interacted with PG&E's federal monitor, part of the company's probation for 6 federal felonies from the deadly San Bruno gas explosion.

Federal law caps probation at 5 years.

"In these five years, PG&E has gone on a crime spree and will emerge from probation as a continuing menace to California," US Dist Judge William Alsup said when PG&E got off probation last January. 

1:41 p.m. PST

We begin post-lunch PG&E manslaughter hearing with another PG&E employee: Ken Loomis, who is a manager for "operational excellence" of tree work. He's an arborist.

His name came up this morning around the issue of internal confusion at PG&E about whether tree contractors are supposed to walk *all the way around* trees during inspections.

Not doing that, investigators say, allowed multiple rounds of inspections to miss the Zogg Fire tree.

Credit: ABC10
The base of the tree believed to have started the Zogg Fire sits in a protective shipping container.

1:29 p.m. PST

Somehow, ABC10 is the only news organization in the Shasta County courtroom for the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

I'll post updates from this afternoon's session here.

PG&E is charged with 31 crimes, including the manslaughter of 4 people in the 2020 Zogg Fire 

The fire started 3 months after PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 felony counts of manslaughter the next county over in the 2018 Camp Fire.

Credit: ABC10
The victims of the 2020 Zogg Fire.

11:57 a.m. PST

PG&E lawyers liken CAPs to a "suggestion box"-- Bakker agrees it's like that.

Some cleanup questions.

He says the power line that sparked the Zogg Fire is a "high risk circuit."

And with that, the PG&E manslaughter hearing is heading to lunch.

11:46 a.m. PST

This concern about the level of tree inspections made its way into an internal PG&E process called a CAP.

"To the best of your knowledge, nothing was done to address these CAPs?"

"Correct," Bakker says.

PG&E attys now have him on cross in the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

11:41 a.m. PST

In the PG&E manslaughter hearing, Bakker is being asked about his work reviewing concerns that PG&E's procedures for doing doing level 1 (walk-by) vs. level 2 (360-degree) tree inspections weren't clear.

In 2019, Bakker was in charge of the company's procedure... known as "Vegetation Management Distribution Routine Patrol Procedure" or "the DRPP."

He remembers discussing the concerns with the next person who took over the DRPP.

11:32 a.m. PST

Testimony is moving a more quickly on Day 5 of the PG&E manslaughter hearing, so I’m behind on photos:

Witnesses so far today in the Zogg Fire case:

Michael Koffman, PG&E
Kelly Fredrickson, PG&E
Joshua Cannon, tree contractor
Adam Bakker, PG&E (on stand now)

Credit: ABC10 / Brandon Rittiman
Day 5 witnesses in the PG&E manslaughter hearings include Michael Koffman, (PG&E), Kelly Fredrickson (PG&E), Joshua Cannon (tree contractor), Adam Bakker (PG&E).

11:24 a.m. PST

PG&E employee Adam Bakker, who's worked there since 2004, is our next witness in the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

He has a long background in tree work, going back to the 1990s.

He's now describing PG&E's knowledge of which tree species cause more outages than other: says the gray pine  (the kind of tree that hit power lines and sparked the Zogg Fire) is "a risky species."

11:15 a.m. PST

On cross exam in the PG&E manslaughter hearing, Cannon tells PG&E lawyers that if he knew back then who would do the next annual patrol, he would have been less concerned:

"If I had known that Steve Morefield was the one taking over, I probably would have reached out to him personally," Cannon says.

On redirect he says he told PG&E "it was irresponsible to leave trees standing if they needed to be cut down."

11:10 a.m. PST

When a PG&E employee told him the utility was calling off tree cutting in the post-Carr Fire area, "I expressed disbelief," Cannon says in the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

"It seemed out of character," he adds. "I thought that it was irresponsible to do that."

He says he asked for the decision in writing. This was a few weeks before the Camp Fire and Cannon's transfer.

11:02 a.m. PST

Cannon asked to be transferred in November 2018.

"My house burned down," Cannon says in the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

He lived in Paradise.

The 2018 Camp Fire (which was started by PG&E's criminal negligence) burned his home, so he asked to be transferred to work on the Camp Fire restoration-- instead of the Carr Fire restoration work he was doing in Shasta.

10:59 a.m. PST

Joshua Cannon is our next PG&E manslaughter hearing witness.

He's a tree contractor. In 2018, he worked for PG&E contractor Mountain G Enterprises-- who's his employer today.

He a deputy director for tree work along PG&E's power lines, including the ones that sparked the 2020 Zogg Fire

In 2018, he was involved in the post-Carr Fire work in the area.

10:35 a.m. PST

On cross, the defense shows a text in Feb 2019 of Fredrickson asking a contractor "when do you think we'll finish zogg?"

"There's 3 trees left on zoggmine that'll get done Monday," the contractor replied.

A later text says they "got" 3 Zogg Mine trees.

"Nice!!" Fredrickson texted back.

"Zoggmine should be done now," the contractor texted back.

10:28 a.m. PST

Shasta County Court's evidence numbering system is being further overrun by the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

PG&E employee Kelly Fredrickson is looking at her 2019 texts w/ tree contractors.

The one she's looking at now is Defense Exhibit "FFFFFF."

Or as they're saying it out loud: "Exhibit F-times-six."

The texts show Fredrickson asking about the status of trees marked in 2018.

10:20 a.m. PST

Here's a photo of the downed power lines from the Zogg Fire origin point.

This was entered into evidence in the PG&E manslaughter hearing.

Credit: ABC10
Downed power lines at the origin point of the Zogg Fire

10:18 a.m. PST

PG&E atty Kravis is on cross exam with PG&E employee Kelly Fredrickson, who just said inspectors put bright *blue* paint on the trees (we'd heard *green* from other witnesses) in the post-Carr Fire work in 2018.

The instruction to the next crews was "if they see a tree that was marked by the fire crews, I asked them to do a complete (360-degree) re-assessment" of the tree.

10:12 a.m. PST

In PG&E's federal probation, a judge found that PG&E had marked this gray pine as a hazard in 2018 but then never followed up to cut it down.

It fell on a PG&E power line in a September 2020 windstorm, sparking the Zogg Fire that killed 4 people. 

These photos from the PG&E manslaughter hearing show the large wound/cavity the tree had at its trunk, on the uphill side-- facing away from the power lines.

Credit: ABC10
The cavity in the Gray Pine believed to have ignited the Zogg Fire.

10:08 a.m. PST

A lot of back-and-forth between the DA and Kelly Fredrickson in the PG&E manslaughter hearing on PG&E's decision to combine the CEMA (post-fire) tree inspection and the routine patrol: doing 2 inspections at once.

She sees it as doing two jobs at once.

DA sees it as doing one job *instead of* two, gets her to say that it's going out in the field once instead of going out twice.

09:56 a.m. PST

Kelly Fredrickson is asked if she thought PG&E's tree inspectors walked 360-degrees around "all trees" tall / close enough to strike the power lines?

"If it was necessary," she says. "I'm getting hung up on the word 'all.'"

Asked another way, she says "no."

"It was not stated in our procedure that a 360-degree walkaround was required on all trees."

09:45 a.m. PST

2nd  PG&E manslaughter hearing witness of the day is up: Kelly Fredrickson, a PG&E supervisor in the work verification program.

She's been at PG&E since 2007.

In 2018, 2 years before the Zogg Fire, she was a program manager-- overseeing PG&E contractors who inspected and cut trees.

She set their schedules and plans.

09:38 a.m. PST

DA asks Koffman: "Did you tell anyone specifically" to look for green paint and be especially careful to deal with the unworked post-Carr trees?

No, Koffman says.

He adds that looking for painted trees is a "standing" expectation.

"It was the expectation that the trees would be inspected during the routine cycles."

This is about the tree that caused the Zogg Fire.

Credit: ABC10
A pre-blaze close up of the tree believed to have started the Zogg Fire.

09:33 a.m. PST

Judge sustains the objection.

More PG&E objections fly as Frazer continues in PG&E manslaughter hearing, with judge stopping a couple of questions that he says go beyond the scope of redirect.

The DA asks Koffman whether anyone warned him he was making a risky decision by leaving trees unworked after the 2018 post-Carr Fire inspections.

He doesn't remember that, he says.

09:27 a.m. PST

Koffman is back on the stand in PG&E manslaughter hearing.

The judge asks the first question, trying to clear up what "HN" stands for on a pre Zogg Fire checklist admitted yesterday.

"Hazard Notification," Koffman says.

DA team now questioning him about which PG&E superiors he met with. He names PG&E execs Michael Lewis & Sumeet Singh.

PG&E objects because it didn't come up in cross exam.

09:19 a.m. PST

Judge Boeckman says the DA has given enough detail to satisfy him that all 3 witnesses can come in.

The judge is now telling the DA team he'd like them to get quickly to the meat of the testimony because he feels we're behind schedule.

Kravis says PG&E understands the judge's ruling, though it doesn't agree these witnesses should come in.

09:14 a.m. PST

Much shorter than the detail offered by Frazer about these planned PG&E manslaughter hearing witnesses:

Adam Bakker & John Daubenspeck were involved in managing trees for PG&E.

Charles Filmer is a subject matter expert who knows about PG&E's regulatory issues, also the 2015 Butte Fire, also tree risk. 

09:07 a.m. PST

Judge Boeckman says the preliminary hearing is not the way to secure interviews with witnesses who weren't willing to talk, that the DA team needs to know what they expect to elicit from the testimony.

(The PG&E manslaughter hearing is for DA present evidence to the judge so he can decide if we go to trial.)

DA atty Ian Frazer is listing things he expects to ask about.

09:04 a.m. PST

Before Koffman comes out, PG&E's defense team raises an issue: they're challenging three of the DA's witnesses on the grounds the DA hasn't previously interviewed them.

This came up earlier and Judge Bradley Boeckman said he wanted to handle such disputes as witnesses come up.

Asked which witnesses, PG&E says:

Adam Bakker
John Daubenspeck
Charles Filmer

08:59 a.m. PST

Yesterday's PG&E manslaughter hearing session ended with Michael Koffman still on the witness stand.

He's the first PG&E employee called to testify, having overseen PG&E's tree inspection contractors on Zogg Mine Rd in the 2 years before the Zogg Fire.

Focus is on why PG&E didn't cut down the injured tree that fell on power lines in 2020.

Here's our story on Day 4.

Credit: ABC10 / Brandon Rittiman
PG&E employee Michael Koffman prepares to take the witness stand in Shasta County Superior Court.

08:55 a.m. PST

PG&E, the nation's largest electric , is charged with the felony manslaughter of four people in the 2020 :

  • Feyla McLeod
  • Alaina Rowe McLeod
  • Karin King
  • Kenneth Vossen

The PG&E manslaughter hearing enters day 5 Thursday in Shasta County, with more testimony on the 31 alleged criminal charges.

I'm in court and will post live updates in this thread.

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