Public Forum

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From the editor: This section is dedicated to the Public Forum, where we publish opinions on public and social issues that affect the Malibu community and our readers at large.

Another perspective

Note from the editor: This letter was edited for length and clarity. It was previously published in another local paper, to which the following Public Forum writers are responding.

I am writing to your paper as a means to communicate with your community. I want you and the residents to understand who the young men are who are sitting on “felony” charges for the devastating fire on November 23/24 2007.

The kids could be your kids. So listen unbiasedly.

First let me personally say that I empathize and understand the tremendous loss that the residents of Corral Canyon have had. I feel deeply sad for everything that was lost in the fires. No words can be of comfort.

There is so much more to the young men then anyone has taken the time to find out, that is why it is so important for people understand them.

William Coppock moved to California a few years ago to make a life of his own and become a grown man. He did just that. He came with little money, love and support from his family. He landed a job immediately and got himself an apartment. His work ethic being as it is, he quickly excelled and moved up in the company. He works hard. He is loved by his parents and supported by his friends and co-workers who know who he is; he is not a criminal.

Brian Anderson was raised by a single parent, his mother April Anderson; along with his aunts and grandparents to support them. The caves were always a place to relax, enjoy, be with friends; it was a comfortable place. On November 23, 2007 Brian was seeking something familiar, comforting; like home. Let me explain:

The day Brian was to attend formal services on November 26, 2005 for his grandparents, who both had died on the same day, he found out his mother was brutally murdered by an ex-boyfriend.

Brian is not a mean person or a dangerous person, he is not a criminal. He is a young man who was building his life after the tragic murder of his mother, not destroying his life or anyone else’s. November 2007 was the first year that he actually bought a Christmas tree. The first time he wanted to celebrate Christmas after his mother’s murder.

Brian Anderson had been working hard; did you know he works at a community thrift shop? He is not a criminal.

Brian called the police as soon as he heard that they were looking for those who were up in Corral Canyon.

Brian understands your losses. Brian understands losing everything near and dear to your heart. In fact, Brian knows loss more than all of the fire victims in Malibu know. Brian would have gone to the canyon to reflect and enjoy his friends, not to cause harm to the area that he treasured. If prosecuted, the district attorneys office will create more victims of the Corral Canyon fires. Because there is no criminal action here.

Brian Franks’ parents abandoned him. Brian Anderson befriended Franks [at high school] and because Franks had no place to live, Anderson asked his mother if he could stay there, and April Anderson welcomed him in. Brian Franks has held down management jobs at some of your favorite coffee shops. He is a dependable hard working man, who values his friends because they are his family. He is not a criminal.

The charges these young men are facing will put them in State Prison, where there are ‘real’ criminals. Murderers, rapists, child molesters, gang members, drug dealers, etc. How wrong will it be to see Brian Anderson to maybe serve more time in prison than the man who murdered his mother!

Don’t send these young men whose only crime was to go to the cave as thousands of kids and adults from Malibu and throughout the county have done for decades. Was it a crime when each person went up there and started or was at a controlled fire? This case leads us to believe so.

In an interview from the fires that occurred in Malibu the month before, a resident pointed the finger then to the State of California. Her charges were that the state and county have continually failed to close the area for access. Malibu sits on the edge of the Santa Monica Mountains with dry brush and fires constantly year after year threatening and or taking homes. The plea was that the fires are more the failure of the state and county to gate the canyon during high fire danger times.

Lastly, restitution: These kids have no wealthy families. They have no means if convicted of paying the residents back. They are on limited income to begin with. Franks has no family. Brian Anderson has only his aunts and grandparents of who have invested everything they have in seeking justice for the murder of their sister and daughter. The Coppock family has no money.

Nothing can ever replace what has been lost in the fires, not even seeing three young men go to a state prison.

Thank you for taking the time to understand and look at things and the young men charged with unbiased minds. I plead that they shouldn’t be held on criminal charges. Focus on the state and county.

Savannah Singer

Anguish of victims

Our fellow residents heard loud, drunken laughter from the cars speeding down Corral Canyon road in the early morning hours of November 24, 2007. The occupants had just left a fire burning on top of our Malibu Bowl community in Corral Canyon. Dogs barked. Some would be burned to death in the firestorm unleashed by these defendants.

With so many lives potentially at stake how could they not call 911? In the chaos that followed we can only thank a merciful God that no one was killed. Even so, it is likely that some our frail and elderly neighbors have since passed away or suffered failing health from the shock of losing their homes and all of their possessions.

That laughter cruelly mocks us over a year later. I hear it in our rented apartment as I stand before piles of insurance documents and cope with the overwhelming details related to the destruction of our home. More than 50 of us had our homes reduced to a fire pit of ashes and debris after the defendants were done having “fun” as their high-priced criminal trial attorney, Andrew Flier, phrased it during their December 2 preliminary hearing on felony charges for recklessly causing the fire.

We can’t allow this kind of “fun” to continue.

Let me explain how their actions impacted our family.

Every precious memory of our family life going back over a century was wiped out. Can you imagine not being able to see your child’s artwork or see the videos of her birth? A whole family history was lost in the ashes. We spent the Christmas holiday on our hands and knees in the charred debris of what was once our family home looking unsuccessfully for our wedding rings.

The recommended sentence for Franks, the prosecution witness, is 300 hours of community service. In a few years, he can probably have his criminal record expunged. We are deeply offended by this absurdly light sentence. We need to send a message to those who play with fire during Red Flag warning days. No matter what your intentions may be, if you cause a fire that grows into a massive wildfire, you will stand trial and face years in prison if convicted..

The defendants are men with families and friends. But if convicted, they are also criminals and the law and justice require that they serve many years in a state prison. The victims of this fire are already serving time in a personal hell of emotional loss, financial stress, the endless months spent trying to endure the difficult, sometimes impossible rebuilding process.

We’re now beyond excuses. Let justice be done.

Robert Bailey

Deserve punishment

Another Christmas is approaching as the Corral Fire victims continue to be unable to celebrate the Holiday season in their homes. As concerned Malibu residents who took the Friday off to hear the Anderson and Coppock December 5 preliminary hearing, we “[have] taken the time to find out,” as pleaded by a defendant Anderson’s aunt Savannah Singer.

At the hearing, what we heard from witnesses and not disputed by Anderson and Coppock defense attorneys was that these defendants and their friends did illegal drugs and drank alcohol before they drove out to Corral Canyon, Brian Anderson directed Brian Franks to steal wood from Ralphs on the way, William Coppock purchased lighter fluid, they trespassed through a locked gate and joined another group that had a camp fire going inside the cave. Guys did more drugs and drinking, kicked wood and pillow on fire out of the cave, and they all left without completely extinguishing amber and glowing, red logs in the very smoky cave, because Anderson assured that the fire will go out, when it was very cold and windy, sometime between 1 and 2 a.m. The defense attorneys pointed out that these men neither heard about the state of emergency in effect nor saw the signs that prohibited the acts they committed. However, they are adults who live in Los Angeles and know that one does not create or maintain a fire on any windy day near dry brush in fire-prone Malibu.

I heard that the recent tragic fire in Montecito was also started as a bonfire by young adults. In this time of increasing unaccountability, in order to make everyone understand that there are serious consequences to seemingly casual and irresponsible behaviors and that they should have second thoughts about how, where, and with whom they party, neighbors of Corral Canyon are compelled to seek significant punishment for those who caused the Corral Fire. If these men are let free with light sentences, we are setting precedent for future devastating and preventable fires.

Aya Yoshida

Jail time sends message

I am appalled and saddened by the letter of Savannah Singer, the Aunt of Brian Anderson, one of the men who started the Corral Canyon fire. I am one of the 53 victims of the devastating fires. I suffered a great loss of property and my beautiful home and my life has not been the same since the fire.

They were drinking, smoking weed and started the fire with stolen firewood. When the fire started they took off and did not even call 911. Can you imagine what it feels like to see your house burning to the ground on TV and not even know if your precious pets are alive or dead. Two of my beloved pets died soon after the fire due to the enormous heat and stress to their hearts.

My life has changed, as has the lives of my neighbors who also lost a home. It is not just the structure itself but my valuables and family heirlooms such as my Beatles autographs and family photos.

There is only one fire victim here in Corral actually re-building their house. The process of obtaining a building permit is long and hard and is bordering on persecution. I submitted my Building Plans in January and I still don’t have a permit. Some of us are living in trailers because we cannot afford to rent and also pay a mortgage on a piece of dirt.

I am now asking for community support to please charge these men and give them the jail time and the community service that they deserve. Why should they walk away with probation and a slap on the wrist when 53 families became homeless because of their criminal negligence. If the law does not prosecute them then it will send a message to other young people that it is it all right to burn down house and put people, animals and beloved fire fighters at risk.

Ms. Singer claims she understands the tremendous loss we suffered and how we all feel. She could not possibly know how it feels to have your house burn to the ground and to lose all your possessions. This is criminal behavior of young men who do not even live in our city. I believe they have to pay with hard jail time and perhaps many hours of community service.

Geraldine Gilliland

Community service is answer

Savannah Singer: Good judgment would have been a quality for your nephew and the others to have possessed when heading to the caves. Personal responsibility would have sufficed. Regret that relatives and party-goers now plead does not put homes back in place or raise beloved pets from the ashes or restore family archives, treasures, and everyday effects of neighbors’ lives.

We managed to save our home, but not our grounds. This week we are ordering another one hundred romneya to plant in the blackened earth. We have yet to replace the fences or the outside lighting system because we cannot afford to. We have not even begun to put in a new citrus grove. All we see ahead of us is more money and more work. We are tired but we go on.

Ms. Singer, community service is an answer-thousands of hours of helping the folks who lost everything. Your letter may serve your nephew, but it does not mitigate our losses. Let the men pick up rubble, let them dig holes and plant new plants, let them paint walls. Plead for mercy and few may hear; beg to repair and everyone will listen.

Charlotte Ward