Washoe DA: Victim’s family won’t sway prosecution decision
Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick says his decision whether to prosecute a man who accidentally set a Reno-area wildfire won’t be influenced by the recommendation of the family of the only person who died in it.
Two days after the Jan. 19 fire erupted and destroyed 29 homes, the children of 93-year-old victim June Hargis said there’s no point to prosecuting him. She lived near where the fire broke out and died of smoke inhalation.
A report released by fire investigators last week concluded that the blaze was caused by Lyle Teuscher’s improper disposal of fireplace ashes in Washoe Valley south of Reno. Prosecutors now are reviewing the report.
Gammick said the family’s stance against a prosecution won’t be a factor in the decision whether to file charges against Teuscher, 58.
“That’s not their call,” he told The Associated Press. “Most times family members want something done. I’ve run across that quite a bit. I tell them it’s not their call.”
Prosecutors will weigh a variety of factors in reaching the decision. While Teuscher promptly stepped forward to admit his role in the blaze and expressed deep remorse, the fire caused Hargis’ death and an estimated $4.5 million in property damage.
“This is a death case,” Gammick said. “The destruction and all that is money and property. We’re talking human life … and it’s more than simple arson and property damage.”
Gammick said it would take time for his office to review separate reports by fire investigators and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re not anywhere near to a decision. I don’t want to speculate when a decision will be made,” he said.
Teuscher told investigators he had disposed of the ashes in a metal trailer outside his home about four days before the fire began. Whipped by wind gusts approaching 80 mph, the blaze quickly spread through grass and brush made tinder dry by lack of rain and snow, and ended up burning 5 square miles.
Teuscher said he always checked the temperature of ashes and “thought all the ashes were cold and safe enough to deposit in the trailer for later dumping,” according to the report. He was not home when the fire started.
While she lost her mother, house, barn and all three horses in the fire, Hargis’ daughter, Jeannie Watts, said there probably was no need to file criminal charges.
“What good is that going to do? Everything is already gone,” Watts said two days after the fire erupted. “He’ll pay the rest of his life for that.”
Her brother, Jim Blueberg, agreed. While the man was guilty of a “silly, stupid mistake,” Blueberg said he forgives him and doesn’t think a criminal prosecution “would do any good.”