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PG&E pleads not guilty to Zogg Fire manslaughter charges

Prosecutors accuse the company of criminally reckless behavior by failing to cut a known hazardous tree before it fell onto power lines.

REDDING, Calif. — PG&E admits it sparked the deadly Zogg Fire in 2020, but pleaded not guilty Thursday to all 31 criminal charges it faces in Shasta County.

The charges include four felony counts of involuntary manslaughter for the people who died in the small communities of Igo and Ono.

Eight-year-old Feyla McLeod died with her mother Alaina as they tried to escape in a pickup. The fire also killed Kenneth Vossen and Karin King, who lived nearby.

“Our lives have been changed forever,” said Suzie Bewley, Feyla McLeod’s grandmother. “Our family lives in a nightmare every day that we want to wake up from.”

Credit: ABC10 / KXTV

The McLeod family attended Thursday’s hearing, along with a handful of other people whose homes were destroyed in the flames.

PG&E wanted to make the Zogg Fire part of a civil settlement reached earlier this year to avoid criminal prosecution for causing the 2019 Kincade and 2021 Dixie fires, but Shasta County prosecutors refused.

RELATED: PG&E settles Kincade, Dixie fire cases without admitting to crimes

“We do have four people who tragically lost their life,” said Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett, who won re-election on Tuesday. “We’re going to make sure PG&E is held responsible criminally and potentially as well civilly.”

PG&E’s legal team declined to speak at the courthouse.

The Zogg Fire started three months after PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter for people who died in the 2018 Camp Fire. Company executives promised it wouldn’t happen again.

Like in the Camp Fire, prosecutors say PG&E sparked the Zogg Fire by neglecting to fix a known safety issue.

RELATED: Survivors call on US Attorney, judge to reverse decision ending PG&E probation

Arson investigators found PG&E negligent because the company failed to remove a damaged pine tree that it had previously identified as a hazard.

Credit: ABC10
This image from the arborist report in CAL FIRE's investigation of the deadly Zogg Fire shows the tree suspected of falling onto a PG&E power line. Investigators found the tree had 'obvious' safety problems and PG&E was 'reckless' not to remove it. PG&E has been charged with four felony manslaughter counts and other crimes for starting the Sept. 2020 fire in Shasta County.

“It certainly goes to their reckless conduct,” Bridgett said. “Knowing about the tree, knowing about the danger.”

An arrest of a PG&E decision-maker could still be possible depending on the ongoing investigation.

As it stands now, all 31 felonies and misdemeanors in the case are filed against the company itself. If convicted, punishment for the manslaughters would be limited to a $10,000 fine per person killed.

RELATED: PG&E ‘continues to engage in criminal thinking,’ says former regulator

The company faces additional charges that include reckless arson and reckless emission of smoke.

The preliminary hearing in the Zogg Fire case is scheduled January 18, 2023, when a judge would consider whether there is enough evidence to warrant a criminal trial.


Cal Fire: PG&E equipment responsible for deadly Zogg Fire

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