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German architect sentenced to jail after firefighter dies

January 18th, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Criminal prosecutions are rare in the field of building code enforcement but when there is a high profile death that results from shoddy construction, indictments do happen.  Recently in Los Angeles, A German architect/contractor was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a firefighter. The architect designed his own mansion and told the building department he wasn’t going to include any fireplaces in the 12,000 square foot structure.  But, then he changed his mind:

Days after Becker was permitted to move in, a fire awoke him and his girlfriend at night. After the fire, authorities determined that Becker built long, natural-gas fire pits meant for outdoor use into the interior of his home. He’s accused of gross negligence for building the frame of the fireplaces with combustible materials, instead of materials such as brick, and for not building any firebreaks inside the walls.

The judge ultimately gave the architect 1 year in jail of which he will serve about 6 months.  This is not unusual as defendants usually get credit for good behavior while in jail.  Firefighters were angry the defendant didn’t receive a maximum 4 year sentence but the judge said  he was concerned that “responsibility for the fire could be shared, because safety inspectors had failed to find the illegally installed fireplaces.” However, evidence showed that he made these changes after the final inspection and even disconnected sprinklers.
I have often found that judges know very little about how the inspection process works.  Code officials know that they have little control over owners once the certificate of occupancy is issued.  Too many owners create dangerous conditions because they don’t want to spend the necessary money to do things right.
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