Two get probation for Corral fire, two others released from jail early

The remaining two defendants in the case pleaded no contest to felony charges, which were reduced to misdemeanors.

By Carly Erickson / Special to The Malibu Times

The remaining two defendants charged with causing the November 2007 Corral fire, which injured five firefighters and destroyed 53 homes and nearly 5,000 acres of land, were sentenced last week to five years probation and 500 hours of community service.

Dean Allen Lavorante, 22, and Eric Matthew Ullman, 21, pled no contest to felony counts of recklessly causing a fire that caused bodily injury and recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure.

Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Susan Speer reduced the charges to misdemeanors because, although the defendants started the fire, they left the scene before a second group of defendants arrived and caused the fire to spread, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office stated in a press release. The judge also determined that Lavorante and Ullman were not responsible for millions of dollars in restitution charges, but they each must pay a $1,000 fine.

Brian Alan Anderson, 25, and William Thomas Coppock, 26, were sentenced to a year in county jail last month after making the same pleas as the other two defendants. They were recently released from jail, serving less than half their sentences.

“It is very likely that they were eligible for early release … because of budget cuts,” said Steve Whitmore, spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He added that this is common and that nonviolent offenders typically, “are doing 20 percent of their sentences.”

Local Realtor Paul Grisanti, whose home was destroyed in the fire, was upset by the early release.

“They’re out of jail and I still don’t have a permit to replace the house that I lost,” he said.

A fifth defendant, Brian David Franks, 30, pleaded no contest in 2008 to felony charges. He was put on probation and ordered to do community service. Franks had agreed to testify against Anderson and Coppock had the case gone to trial.

Anderson and Coppock are scheduled to appear before Judge Speer on Dec. 1 for a restitution hearing. She ordered them to pay $7.7 million last month to cover firefighting costs. The fire victims submitted a report that shows about $17 million in damages and the state Attorney General’s Office reports $25 million. Grisanti is not optimistic about the payments being made.

“I don’t think there’s any chance in hell I’ll ever see any money from these two,” he said.

The fire victims had filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging it failed to secure a state park area where the fire originated on top of Corral Canyon known as The Cave. The suit was rejected at the trial level and on appeal. The state Supreme Court last week declined to hear the case.

Fire victims were upset by the decision.

“The Malibu Times’ own coverage documented the conditions that allowed for the devastating fire, which destroyed my home and belongings and left me unable to return to my property to this day,” wrote Scott Palamar in an e-mail to the newspaper. “It is a sad and dangerous precedent for our government to be allowed unaccountability for placing its citizens in danger.”

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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