Couple of “Gender Reveal” California Wildfire Plead Guilt

Imagine if you burned down a national park, destroyed 20 buildings, and killed a firefighter, all so that you could get the perfect family photo. And then the media misrepresents your intentions as a “gender reveal” party instead of the tasteful family outing that it actually was. A real tragedy that it was misreported…

On September 5, 2020, Refugio Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Jimenez staged a photo shoot with their young children for their baby’s gender reveal at El Dorado Ranch in Yuciapia, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains. Their smoke-generating pyrotechnic machine was set off in a field and quickly ignited the surrounding dry grass. The couple tried to use bottled water to douse the flames and called 911. The couple denies they were putting on a gender reveal party. Instead, they were putting on a photo shoot for their family.

The resulting El Dorado Fire burned 75 miles of Los Angles, most on national forest land. The fire injured 13 people, destroyed 5 houses and 15 other buildings, and forced the evaluation of hundreds of residents. Charles Morton, one of the firefighters called to put out the blaze, was killed on duty. Mr. Morton had been a firefighter for 18 years. The U.S. Forest Service has since filed a lawsuit against the pyrotechnic device’s manufactures for illegal distribution of the device in California. Refugio Jimenez Jr. plead guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of recklessly causing fire to an inhabited structure. Jimenez was sentenced to a year in jail, two years of felony probation, and 200 hours of community service. Angelina Jimenez plead guilty to three misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing fire to property of another. She was sentenced to a year of probation and 400 hours of community service. The couple was ordered to pay $1,789,972 in restitution.

Liability for Wildfires

The Jimenez family faces significant criminal penalties for their negligence. Although the fire was an accident, it has caused significant damage to the state, which is reflected in the million dollar restitution amount. Criminal penalties are non-exclusive though. It is possible to be subject to both criminal penalties and sued for wrongful death by the families of the victims or loss of property for the destruction of the lost homes.

Given the amount of damage that the fire wrecked, the Jimenez would potentially face millions in lawsuits, in addition to the criminal restitution they were already ordered to pay. However, there are some defendants who are unable to pay what they owe. They may not make enough income or have enough assets to pay a judgment, and spending a year in prison for felony won’t help them raise money either. Many defendants will declare bankruptcy if they are in financial peril, though some judgments may survive a bankruptcy discharge.

Some plaintiffs’ attorneys will be incentivized to target another defendant who could actually pay, even if that defendant isn’t as clearly liable or responsible at all. In some cases, a plaintiff

may want to sue the defendant’s employer or the property owner instead of, or in addition to, the person who is most culpable for their client’s injuries.

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

A criminal defense attorney can help you build your case can represent you during all the phases of a murder or manslaughter trial. The emotional benefits include some sense of relief that your attorney is on your side.

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