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PG&E faces manslaughter counts, family urges court transparency

Family members of people killed in the Zogg Fire want Judge Bradley L. Boeckman to reconsider a ban on audio recordings of PG&E’s criminal court hearings

REDDING, Calif. — The family of eight-year-old Feyla McLeod, killed alongside her mother Alaina in the 2020 Zogg Fire, are asking a Shasta County judge to embrace more transparency as PG&E defends against criminal charges.

The McLeod family called on Judge Bradley L. Boeckman to reconsider his Tuesday order banning news cameras from recording audio of what is said in his courtroom. 

"I think it's very important the public hears the evidence and hears what their defense lawyers are going to bring up,” said Suzie Bewley, Feyla’s grandmother. “They have a right to know."

The Zogg Fire also claimed the lives of Karin King and Kenneth Vossen. PG&E faces a preliminary hearing starting Wednesday to determine whether the company stands trial for manslaughter and other criminal charges.

The hearing could last weeks. Many witnesses are expected to speak publicly for the first time about the Zogg Fire investigation in the Redding courtroom.

Judge Boeckman did rule that news cameras may film silent video of the proceedings. His order also banned the media from showing any “depiction of the judge.”

Restrictions on audio recording have become common practice in Shasta County courtrooms.

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ABC10 requested permission to record audio and video of the hearings, arguing that the public interest in the case cannot be overstated. 16 million Californians live in PG&E’s monopoly territory. The company has 91 prior felony convictions, including 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp Fire.

PG&E faces four new felony manslaughter charges for starting the Zogg Fire in September of 2020. The criminal complaint alleges a total of 11 felony charges and 20 misdemeanors, including fire, utility, and environmental offenses.

“I really do hope that it does affect some change and can keep people safer,” said Zach McLeod, the father of Feyla and husband of Alaina. “No one should have to go through this.”

PG&E has admitted that its power lines sparked the Zogg Fire when a damaged gray pine fell onto live wires in a windstorm. The company pleaded not guilty to the alleged crimes, however.

PG&E CEO Patti Poppe has sought to portray the fire as the result of differences of professional opinions among its tree trimming contractors.

“My coworkers are not criminals,” Poppe said in a video statement recorded shortly before the charges were filed. “We welcome our day in court.”

However, a federal judge found that PG&E committed violations by sparking the Zogg Fire because contractors had marked the tree as a hazard that needed to be removed in 2018. In the two years that followed, no one working for PG&E followed through to cut the tree down.

PG&E has a legal duty to cut or trim trees that pose a risk to its uncovered power lines.

A Cal Fire arson investigation found PG&E should have removed the tree and that probable cause existed for prosecutors to pursue charges.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett refused to settle the Zogg Fire as a civil matter in early 2022, even as she participated in a settlement of the 2021 Dixie Fire.

“In the Zogg case, PG&E’s actions caused the deaths of four people,” Bridgett said at the time. “A civil settlement alone, such as was reached in the Dixie Fire case, would not be sufficient to hold PG&E accountable for their actions.”

The preliminary hearing is when a judge determines whether to hold a trial for alleged crimes. The hearing in the Zogg Fire case is expected to last three to five weeks.

GO DEEPER: This story is part of ABC10's FIRE - POWER - MONEY reporting project. If you have a tip that could reveal more about California's crisis with utilities and wildfires, please contact investigative reporter Brandon Rittiman at brittiman@abc10.com.


Family of Zogg Fire victims want change after PG&E is now being investigated for causing the fire

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