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Felony Charge Against Los Gatos Summit Fire Defendant Dismissed

Channing Parker Verden still faces a misdemeanor health and safety code violation alleging negligently causing the giant inferno in May of 2008.

 

a Santa Clara County deputy public defender said this week.

Attorney Javier Rios, who's representing defendant Channing Parker Verden, said Thursday he was pleased that the egregious accusation had been dropped against his client by the Santa Clara County Superior Court and that "it was in the interest of justice to do so."

The court granted the motion and dismissed the felony during a hearing on Monday.

Verden had been charged with recklessly starting the inferno more than four years ago after it's alleged he left burning piles of debris at a home located at 31000 Summit Road owned by Los Gatos resident Andrew Napell.

Cal Fire has said the Summit fire burned 4,270 acres, began at 5:17 a.m., destroyed 35 residences, 64 outbuildings, caused 16 injuries and cost more than $16 million to fight.

A person is guilty of Penal Code 452 (B) when he recklessly sets fire to or burns or cause to be burned, any inhabited structure. The felony charge carries a statutory maximum of four years in jail, Rios explained.

That leaves Verden now facing  

A person is guilty of Health and Safety Code 13000 when he allows a fire kindled or attended by him to escape from his control or to spread to the lands of any person other than the builder of the fire without using every reasonable and proper precaution to prevent the fire from escaping. If convicted of this misdemeanor, the most jail time Verden could receive is six months.

"Mr. Verden is not guilty of the felony. He is not guilty of the misdemeanor," Rios said. "I tip my hat to the prosecutor. In the name of justice, they have taken an important step in the right direction. The next step should be a complete dismissal of the case."  

Several calls and emails to Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney David Boyd were not immediately returned seeking comment.

The case now moves to Department 47 for a pretrial hearing on Feb. 14. Rios has subpoenaed some records from Cal Fire to present to the judge in two weeks.

"To put it mildly, we think it's unfair that the charging has gone the way it did," Rios said. "They charged Mr. Verden, but they failed to charge a Cal Fire firefighter for very similar conduct and I'm still scratching my head over (it) ... the only difference I can see is ... the employer. The firefighter works for Cal Fire and my client doesn't."

Rios said Cal Fire started the huge Loma wild fire when a firefighter had a burnt pile going, failed to extinguish it, has admitted to starting it and Cal Fire has even paid out claims on the incident.

"I'm doing further investigation on the issue of Cal Fire's negligence as far as how they run burnt piles," Rios added. "My client has been raked over the coals ... He's exhausted his savings. He's spent all his money on attorneys. This has taken a toll on his health. He's an innocent man."

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