Teens sentenced to 500 hours community service in Ray May fire
Tribune news service
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Two 15-year-old boys who admitted setting a campfire that led to the 3,895-acre Ray May fire in the Pine Nut Mountains were ordered Tuesday to perform 500 hours of community service each.
“I’m not talking about picking up trash,” said District Judge Dave Gamble. “I’m talking about rehabilitating some portion of the fire zone. There needs to be some work on their part that their actions caused this loss.”
The boys have been held in juvenile detention since they were arrested Aug. 17, the day after the fire began.
At a juvenile court disposition Tuesday, Gamble ordered the boys to write letters of apology to the community, victims who lost personal property, and the Washoe Tribe.
One of the boys was ordered to indefinite confinement at China Spring Youth Camp in an unrelated offense for battery on a neighbor boy that resulted in a broken nose.
The boys admitted to a count of destruction of timber, crops or vegetation by fire by gross negligence. The district attorney’s office determined the fire was not set deliberately and dropped arson charges.
The fire started Aug. 16 in the Pine View Estates neighborhood along Highway 395. At the height of the blaze, more than 600 firefighters from local, state and federal agencies were on the scene.
The boys said they set the fire while camping near the south end of Pine View Estates. They said they put out the fire by urinating on it, then tamping it out.
Several hours later, the wind caught the fire and sent it up the mountainside where it threatened residences.
East Fork fire investigator Capt. Terry Taylor said Tuesday the cost of the fire was more than $3 million.
It destroyed 10 structures, including a guest house, an abandoned building and eight outbuildings.
David and Dien Liska brought pictures of the damage to their property in Pinenut Creek.
“We’re pretty much burned out except for the main house. We spent 15 years building the area up. It was a pristine place to live 7,000 feet above the valley. We put each nail and board in there.”
Gamble asked the Liskas for input on the boys’ sentence.
“I don’t see how anything can be restored. There are no trees up there now. It looks like a nuclear holocaust,” Liska said.
Suzette Claypool, realty officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Carson City, said the Pine Nut allotment covered 60,000 acres. She said there were 300 allotments between 40 and 160 acres.
As of Aug. 22, the cost of the fire had been estimated at $2.835 million, she said.
“I know you’re perfectly capable of meting out punishment,” she told Gamble. “The decision-making capabilities of these young men are pretty askew. It’s my opinion the punishment should be meted out in a way that it makes a difference.”
Prosecutor Karen Dustman said she was concerned about mental health issues affecting the teenagers’ decision-making abilities.
She asked Gamble to order that neither boy be allowed to have matches, lighters or cigarettes. She also asked they be ordered to find employment.
Officials requested more time for a restitution hearing.
Attorney Kris Brown said her client never had formal intervention. She said he stopped using alcohol and marijuana after he was charged in the juvenile battery.
“He is at a point in his life where he sees what part alcohol and drug use play in his decisions,” Brown said. “He’s made a decision in his own life, ‘I am not going to do this.'”
Brown’s client tearfully apologized and asked Gamble to suspend placement in China Spring.
“I will do better on probation knowing I could go to China Spring,” he said.
Because of the battery, Gamble said the boy needed “serious intervention,” and he was sending him to the youth camp south of Gardnerville.
“I say this to every kid I send to China Spring. I send them there to fix them, I send them there to get some education. I send them there to get some tools to make decisions,” Gamble said. “You can do a lot for yourself at camp.”
Gamble ordered the boys to participate in the juvenile probation wilderness intervention program and complete the East Fork Fire District firesetters intervention program.
Attorney Tod Young said his client planned to enroll at Silver State Academy in Carson City, but Young said he wasn’t sure that was enough.
“I’m very concerned with his relationship to school,” Young said. “It’s like he thinks school is for everyone but him. It’s absurd.”
He also told his client’s mother she needs to pay more attention to her son’s education.
“Kids don’t flunk every class if their mother is checking the power school program,” Young said.
Power school is an online program which allows parents to monitor their children’s progress.
Gamble suspended placement of the second juvenile at China Spring or Western Nevada Regional Youth Center in Silver Springs.
Gamble told the teenager he wouldn’t hesitate to place him in confinement if he uses alcohol or controlled substances, or neglects his school work.
“I think you’re on a cusp of having a regular life or having a crappy one. I hold you very accountable for everyone of these conditions. Because I don’t see China Spring or WNRYC as punishment, I won’t hesitate to send you there,” Gamble said.
Both boys were ordered to complete intensive treatment programs and follow all recommendations.
Gamble asked to be involved in the rehabilitation program.
“I’m beginning to have in mind some kind of representative location where these boys can help create some monument to this fire. You need to look at that hill every day,” Gamble said.
“This is a crime of gross negligence, not an accident like, ‘Oh, I dropped my pencil,'” Gamble said. “It is way above regular negligence and close to a willful action.”
Young’s client turned to the audience and apologized to the Liskas.
“I really wish we could go back and change what we did. I need to stand up to my responsibilities.”
He also apologized to Taylor.
Taylor said he agreed with the disposition and appreciated Gamble’s remarks.
“The judge clearly spent a lot of time reading the report and the social history of each of the two young men,” he said.