A German national who owned, designed and built a luxury Hollywood Hills home that caught fire in 2011, resulting in a partial ceiling collapse that led to the death of a firefighter, was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on an involuntary manslaughter charge.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael A. Tynan said he was “convinced” that Gerhard Albert Becker “engaged in deliberate deception” in an effort to evade regulations during the construction of the home where Los Angeles city firefighter Glenn Allen was struck by a portion of the ceiling during the Feb. 16, 2011, blaze.
Allen, 61, died two days later from his injuries.
“This is a tragic case. I think we all agree on that,” the judge said.
Prosecutors allege the fire in the newly-constructed home in the 1500 block of Viewsite Drive was traced to a negligently installed inside fireplace that was designed only for outdoor use.
Becker was charged with the felony count nearly a year after the blaze.
Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney argued that “this fire never should have happened,” but that there would have inevitably been a blaze because of “grossly negligent construction” at the home where the television show “Germany's Next Top Model” was set to be filmed.
The prosecutor said Becker -- the home's architect, builder and general contractor -- was “no neophyte,” and that he ignored warnings from the manufacturer not to use an outdoor fire pit indoors. Carney said he believed speed and cost were the driving factors.
Defense attorney Donald Re asked the judge to dismiss the charge, saying his client was sleeping in the home at the time of the fire, demonstrating his lack of knowledge of any potential danger.
Becker's lawyer questioned the credibility of a building inspector whose testimony came under attack during the preliminary hearing.
“He thought that fireplace was OK. He thought that construction was OK,” Re said of his client, telling the judge that he thought the prosecution tried to “dirty up Mr. Becker.”
“I don't have to dirty him up. He did it to himself,” Carney responded.
A veteran city fire captain testified on Nov. 14 that he was trapped for a time in debris that fell from the ceiling during the fire.
Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Edward Watters testified that he “heard a loud bang” and suddenly found himself lying on his back with a “lot of weight on my chest.”
“It took me a few seconds to realize I was buried ... I could not even move at all. I was totally immobilized,” he said.
Watters testified that he heard an “eerie silence” in the house, tried to keep himself from panicking and called for help from other firefighters, who were eventually able to free him. The fire captain said he suffered a broken tibia and was off work for five months.
Becker -- who is free on a $2 million property bond -- is due back at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse on Dec. 12 for arraignment.