07/03/2020 / By Ethan Huff
In a rare and almost unbelievable admission of culpability, energy giant PG&E recently pleaded guilty to a whopping 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter resulting from the infamous Camp Fire, California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire to date.
An investigation revealed that PG&E inadvertently started the blaze when one of its aging transmission lines broke off from a nearly 100-year-old tower that the company had for many years neglected to maintain. Consequently, nearly 19,000 buildings burned to the ground, 85 people died, and about 90 percent of the California town of Paradise no longer exists.
For failing to keep the transmission line up to par, PG&E also pleaded guilty to one count of illegally setting a fire, reports indicate. It was determined that PG&E should have known that the line cut through a forested and mountainous area known for high winds, and done its due diligence to protect Paradise and surrounding areas from getting charred.
The case ends a two-year battle on behalf of the many families who lost loved ones due to the Camp Fire. These include victims like Marie Wehe, who lived in the Camelot subdivision of Paradise, which is surrounded by large forests. The 78-year-old was killed in the fire and later identified through DNA analysis.
For more background on the PG&E Camp Fire saga, have a look at our earlier reporting.
In addition to pleading guilty, PG&E has also been fined nearly $2 billion by the California Public Utilities Commission for its negligence in causing the wildfire. PG&E could also face other penalties associated with its guilty plea concerning the Camp Fire, which represents a violation of a federal probation order that was placed on the company after a transformer explosion started a fire that killed eight people back in 2010.
Federal Judge William H. Alsup reportedly has the authority and power to impose new penalties on PG&E for failing to abide by the probation order. PG&E has also agreed to pay $13.5 billion worth of settlement claims related to the wildfires, something that it had tried to avoid by declaring bankruptcy back in January. Were it not for this bankruptcy, PG&E could have been slapped with upwards of $30 billion in fines.
Roughly half of this amount is set to be paid out in the form of company stock, which leaves the roughly 70,000 wildfire victims with the remaining 22 percent of the utility to divvy up among themselves once the company exits bankruptcy.
During the hearings, families of the victims read heartbreaking statements about what their loved ones had to endure from the raging inferno. Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey reportedly helped these family members read their statements, or contacted them for phone call statements.
“My voice was the last he heard saying, ‘I love you,'” said Sherlyn Stewart, the daughter of Russ Keith Stewart, one of the fire’s casualties. “His last text to me was, ‘I’m OK for now. Pray.'”
Laurie Teague, whose 79-year-old father Herbert Alderman died in the fire, said she received at least five calls from her dad, “each sounding more panicked and desperate, pleading for help, begging for someone to come get him.”
“His last words on the phone were, ‘the fire is two houses away, help me,'” she recalled. “Then the phone went dead.”
“How absolutely terrified Herb must have been,” she added. “My heart aches for him. No human being should ever have to suffer the unimaginable pain and terror of dying by fire.”
For more related news about corporate malfeasance, be sure to check out Corruption.news.
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