Sentencing delayed in Corral fire case

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Malibu residents express anger in response to plea in a letter by one Corral fire suspect’s aunt.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

Brian David Franks appeared in Van Nuys Superior Court last Thursday for sentencing under a plea bargain for his involvement in the Nov. 24 Corral Fire last year. However, his sentencing was delayed until Jan. 15, along with preliminary hearings for Brian Alan Anderson and William Thomas Coppock. Preliminary hearings for two of the remaining defendants have been postponed to Feb. 25.

This follows a preliminary hearing on Dec. 5 for Anderson and Coppock, which several Malibu residents who were victims of the fire attended.

Franks, 28, admitted to a Van Nuys Superior Court judge last month through a statement read by his attorney that he, along with fellow Los Angeles residents Anderson, 23, and Coppock, 24, rekindled an abandoned campfire in an area known as “the Cave” in the early hours of Nov. 24. The fire later grew out of control and burned 52 homes in Malibu. Prosecutors were expected to ask for five years probation and 300 hours community service. As part of the deal, Franks has agreed to testify against Anderson and Coppock, as well as against Culver City residents Eric Matthew Ullman, 19, and Dean Allen Lavorante, 20, the two men who are accused of starting the initial bonfire, and then abandoning it before the arrival of the Los Angeles trio.

“Dates have been pushed back because good-faith discussions between the defendants and the prosecutors continue,” Ben W. Pesta II, lawyer for defendant Dean Allen Lavorante, said, who added that a preliminary hearing will take place Feb. 25 for defendants Lavorante and Eric Matthew Ullman.

Pesta II said preliminary hearings for the other three defendants have not yet been completed, but the testimony so far confirms Lavorante’s and Ullman’s accounts of how the Corral fire was started.

Malibu resident Sarah Grisanti, who lost her house to the Corral fire, attended the Dec. 5 hearing and said Franks showed “little to no remorse for his actions” while delivering his plea bargain.

Grisanti said she expected the defendants to appear “teenage-like” and was “surprised” by their appearances.

“I had gone to the courthouse with a picture in my mind of some young kids who were just careless,” Grisanti said, adding that she was “surprised” by what she heard and saw.

“Mr. Franks appears much older than his years and as he explained the events leading up to the fire, we sat in shock at the rough nature of these men and the complete detachment they have to the significance of their actions,” she said. “While the two defendants sat in the courtroom, they showed absolutely no remorse, nor indications that they were sorry.”

Unsympathetic ears

Grisanti had also expressed her views of the hearing in a letter to the editor published in this week’s paper. Several Malibu residents also sent letters to the editor in response to a letter by Anderson’s aunt, Savannah Singer, who asked residents “to understand who the young men are who are sitting on ‘felony’ charges for the devastating fire.”

The letter is a plea for the defendants not to be held on criminal charges. It was also addressed to Operation Recovery, an organization headed by Corral resident Beverly Taki that offers financial and emotional aid to Corral Canyon fire victims, and contains brief biographies of each defendant that includes background information about their families and the hardships they have endured throughout their lives.

In her letter, Singer said she “empathizes and understands the tremendous loss that the residents of Corral Canyon have had,” but that “the charges these young men [the defendants] are facing will put them in State Prison, where there are ‘real’ criminals. Murderers, rapists, child molestors, gang members, drug dealers, etc.”

Responses to the letter were unsympathetic toward the defendants. Some believe they should be tried to the full extent of the law.

Grisanti referred to the defendants as “criminals” in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Charlotte Ward, a Corral Canyon resident, wrote that although her house did not burn, she still cannot afford to replace the fences or outside lighting system.

“All we see ahead of us is more money and more work,” Ward said, suggesting that the defendants help repair what the fire has damaged. “Plead for mercy and few may hear; beg to repair and everyone will listen.”

All the letter writers wrote that they believe “justice” should be served, and that the defendants must undergo consequences so that precedence for future fires is not set.

All five defendants were charged with felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure. Prosecutors allege the blaze was started “during and within an area of a state of emergency.” If convicted, the defendants (excluding Franks) will receive mandatory state prison sentences.