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Man gets 5 years' probation in Malibu fire

He also must perform 300 hours of community service for his role in starting the destructive Corral Canyon fire in 2007, and will testify at the trials for other suspects.

February 20, 2009|Jia-Rui Chong

A Los Angeles man involved in starting the destructive Corral Canyon fire in Malibu was sentenced Thursday to five years' probation and 300 hours of community service.

As part of his probation, Brian David Franks, 28, will have to testify at the trials of other men accused of involvement in the fire, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said after his sentencing in a Van Nuys courtroom.

The Corral Canyon wildfire, which started in 2007 as massive brush fires raged from Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border, injured several firefighters and burned more than 50 houses.

Officials believe the fire started after young people built an illegal campfire in a cave at the top of a hillside.

Embers from the campfire landed in the dry brush, and Santa Ana winds whipped the resulting wildfire out of control. Detectives found alcohol containers, food wrappers and bundled fire logs, and were able to trace the items to five suspects.

Franks' lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Douglas Goldstein, said he believed that the sentencing was fair and that his client was "very sorry" about what happened.

"His involvement wasn't as significant as the other defendants," Goldstein said. "Brian was the only one who tried to put the fire out."

Charges against Brian Alan Anderson, William Thomas Coppock, Dean Allen Lavorante and Eric Matthew Ullman are pending, according to the district attorney's office. They are accused of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing a fire to multiple inhabited structures.

Goldstein said Franks has testified in preliminary hearings against Anderson and Coppock. He was unsure if his client would be involved in the other two defendants' cases.

The sentencing by Judge Leslie Dunn came more than four months after Franks pleaded no contest to a felony count of recklessly causing a structure or forest fire. About 20 people testified at the sentencing hearing about harrowing escapes and the fire's effect on their homes and pets.

Dunn ordered Franks to stay away from the Corral Canyon area unless he is doing court-supervised community service, which will involve brush clearance and other fire abatement work.

The judge also ordered Franks to pay restitution, but the amount will be determined at a later date. Franks has spent 51 days in jail.

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jia-rui.chong@latimes.com

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