Two plead no contest to Malibu Corral Fire


Two of the remaining four defendants accused of causing the 2007 Corral Canyon Fire plead no contest to charges of recklessly causing the fire that destroyed 53 homes, burned 4,900 acres and injured six firefighters.

In Van Nuys Superior Courthouse Wednesday, William Thomas Coppock, 25, and Brian Alan Anderson, 24, admitted guilt to felony charges of starting a fire that resulted in bodily injury and recklessly causing a fire to multiple inhabited structures or property. The additional charge alleging that the men set the fire in an area where a state of emergency had been declared is expected to be dropped at the time of sentencing.

The men were ordered to undergo a diagnostic study in June and return to court in September for sentencing.

A fifth defendant, Brian David Franks, 29, in 2008 agreed to a plea bargain in which he was sentenced to five years probation and 300 hours community service for his involvement with the fire. In addition, Franks agreed to testify against the other four defendants in the case.

Motions by Anderson and Coppock to dismiss the charges were rejected in February.

The other two defendants, Eric Matthew Ullman, 20, and Dean Allen Lavorante, 21, have not yet entered pleas.

The Corral Fire started after a number of individuals built an illegal campfire in a cave on state parkland at the top of Corral Canyon on Nov. 24, 2007. Embers from the fire sparked flames on the dry hillsides, which were fueled by roaring Santa Ana winds. Detectives found at the scene alcohol containers, food wrappers and bundled fire logs, which they were able to trace to the five men originally held accountable.

Prosecutors allege the blaze was started during and within an area of a state of emergency, which could result in state prison terms.

In addition, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has filed suit against the five defendants for $7.7 million. The CDF states it spent at least $7,728,362 fighting the fire, and is seeking compensation for negligence and violations of the Health and Safety Code, as well as costs. The fire destroyed 53 homes, damaged 35, burned 4,900 acres and forced the evacuation of 14,000 people.

—Laura Tate, Oliviai Damavandi