Architect Pleads No Contest in Firefighter's Death, Sentenced to Jail

A year-long investigation concluded a "negligently installed" fireplace caused the fire and ceiling collapse that killed a 36-year LAFD veteran

An architect-homeowner was sentenced to one year in county jail -- 168 days of which have already been served -- and three years of probation after pleading no contest in the case of a firefighter killed in a 2011 fire at a Hollywood Hills home.

Thirty-six year Los Angeles Fire Department veteran Glenn Allen, 61, died after a ceiling collapse inside the custom-built Viewsite Drive home during the February 2011 fire.

A nearly year-long investigation by Los Angeles City Fire Department's arson investigation team, the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division and other agencies led to an involuntary manslaughter charge against Gerhard Becker, 49, whose house was to be featured in the show "Germany's Next Top Model." The investigation concluded the fire was started by a "negligently installed" fireplace inside the home that was designed for outdoor use.

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The Los Angeles Fire Department released a statement following Parker's sentencing on Friday. 

"Today's guilty verdict in the case of Gerhard Becker, should send a clear message and warning to those who try to circumvent those codes," the statement said.

Becker, who designed and oversaw the home's construction, faced a maximum sentence of four years in prison. With time served, he will serve about four months before being deported back to Germany to serve three years probation.

The criminal case against him had been in the pre-trial stages, and the results of Friday's  plea hearing in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom mean Becker will avoid a trial. Prosecutors argued Friday that the case should go to trial, but a judge disagreed, citing concerns about a safety inspector in accepting the no-contest plea and immediately sentencing Becker.

"Those are mistakes. That's far different than what the defendant did in this case," said Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney of the safety inspector's actions. "What (the homeowner) did was blatantly disregard conditions that any reasonable person would have known would have killed somebody in that house."

Allen's widow, sister and several off-duty colleagues were in the courtroom.

In a post on the LAFD web site, a department spokesman said, "Belief that the court is leaning toward a more lenient sentence has brought frustration to many members of the Fire Service, and stirred strong sentiment in the community - especially among those who Glenn Allen proudly served."

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Eleven other firefighters were injured in the collapse, some pinned by part of the ceiling. Investigators determined that the attic of the home filled with water, saturating the ceiling, after fire burned a plastic sprinkler system.

An LAFD captain testified at a court hearing in Becker's case that he heard "a loud bang" and felt the weight of the ceiling on him. The bang was followed by an "eerie silence" in the house.

Colleagues used chainsaws as they attempted to pull Allen from the debris. He was transported to a hospital, where he died days later.

Becker, a German national, and another person in the house escaped without injury. Becker was arrested a year later at Los Angeles International Airport after a flight from Spain.

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