Two men accused of starting the Malibu Corral Canyon fire in 2007 pleaded no contest Wednesday to recklessly starting the blaze that raged through 4,900 acres, destroying 53 homes and injuring six firefighters.
Brian Alan Anderson, 24, and William Thomas Coppock, 26, were charged with recklessly starting a fire causing injury and causing an inhabited structure to burn. An additional charge alleging that the men set the fire during a state of emergency had previously been dropped
Anderson and Coppock entered an "open plea" with the court — meaning their sentence is up to the judge — because they were not offered a plea deal by the district attorney's office. The men were ordered to surrender to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for a diagnostic evaluation. They are set to be sentenced Sept 9.
Depending on the evaluation, they face a minimum of one year in county jail, probation and community service, and a maximum of four years in state prison, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Frances Young.
A third man, Brian David Franks, pleaded no contest in 2008 and was sentenced to five years' probation and 300 hours of community service. Franks testified against Anderson and Coppock at a preliminary hearing.
Charges against two other defendants, Dean Allen Lavorante and Eric Matthew Ullman, who face two felony counts each, are pending.
Authorities accused the five men of starting an illegal campfire in a cave in the Malibu hills known as a late-night party hangout. Police identified the men by tracing alcohol containers, food wrappers and bundled fire logs left at the site to a nearby grocery store.
Prosecutors said Anderson and Coppock were more culpable than others because they kicked burning pieces of wood and a pillow or pillowcase out of the cave, where the fire, fueled by strong Santa Ana winds, quickly spread out of control.
"The investigation showed it got away from them, and they didn't report it," Young said.
Defense attorneys contended in court papers that the men were attempting to control the fire by separating the logs from the flame.