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Architect to be Tried in Fatal Fire

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

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A German architect who designed and oversaw construction of a luxury residence where a veteran Los Angeles firefighter perished in a 2011 blaze has been ordered to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter.

Gerhard Albert Becker, 48, allegedly evaded building codes when he installed indoors a fireplace that had been designed for outside use only, according to authorities. Prosecutors say the decision to install the fireplace ultimately led to the death of firefighter Glenn Allen, 61.

Hollywood Hills home fire
CBS Los Angeles

Outdoor fireplaces were installed inside the Hollywood Hills home. The decision led to the death of veteran Los Angeles firefighter Glenn Allen, prosecutors say.

“He acted recklessly,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Tynan said last Wednesday (Nov. 28) at the end of Becker’s preliminary hearing. Becker faces four years in prison if found guilty.

Becker, who pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 12 for arraignment.

Fire Claimed Life

Investigators say the blaze on Feb. 16, 2011, began in a third-floor fireplace and raged through the newly constructed mansion in Hollywood Hills. About 80 firefighters rushed to the burning home, according to reports.

As Allen, who had been a firefighter for more than 36 years, battled the flames, a ceiling gave way and crushed him, according to the district attorney’s office.

Glenn Allen
Los Angeles Fire Department

Glenn Allen, 61, a firefighter for 36 years, was crushed  when a ceiling collapsed during the fire, authorities say.

Chainsaws were used to free Allen from the several hundred pounds of plaster and lumber, and he died two days later, authorities said. Five other firefighters suffered injuries, reports say.

Becker was sleeping in the home when the fire broke out, reports say.

Reality TV Home

Becker’s 12,000-square-foot home was to have been the location for the reality TV show “Germany’s Next Top Model,” according to reports.

Four fireplaces installed throughout the home lacked required firebreaks to stop flames from spreading and consisted of fireboxes “constructed of wood framing and lined with drywall in back, top and bottom,” according to a Los Angeles Times article that cites a search warrant affidavit.

Warnings on the packaging said the fireplaces were intended for “outdoor use only,” authorities said.

“No reasonable person would build a fireplace out of wood,” Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney reportedly told the court.

Carney also said the fire was inevitable.

“One can only imagine what could have happened to those models,” he told media outlets.

Becker Blames Inspector

Becker, who designed and acted as the construction contractor for the project, was confident in the mansion’s safety and says a city building and safety inspector is to blame for approving the construction, according to his attorney Donald Re.

Architect charged in firefighter's death
ABC News

Becker, a German citizen, faces prison time if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

But Brad Bascos, the Los Angeles city building inspector, testified at the hearing that he had never seen the fireplaces during his inspection.

He said the fireplaces had been installed in violation of building codes after his inspection, reports relate.

E-mail After Blaze

During the hearing, Carney also presented an e-mail sent by Becker to the contractor in charge of reconstructing the house after the blaze, according to reports.

Referring to similar fireplaces, Becker allegedly wrote: “I want this to be installed after the final inspection so we don’t have any final delays by the inspector.”

“Not only did he construct a fireplace that killed Glenn Allen,” Carney reportedly told the court. “He wanted to do it again.”

   

Tagged categories: Architects; Building codes; Fire; Health and safety; Laws and litigation

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