District Attorney won't be swayed by family of Washoe Drive wildfire victim

Dick Gammick
Dick Gammick
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Updated: 4/29/2012 6:20 pm

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick says his decision whether to prosecute a man who accidentally set a Reno-area wildfire won't be influenced by the recommendation of the family of the only person who died in it.

Two days after the Jan. 19 fire erupted and destroyed 29 homes, the children of 93-year-old victim June Hargis said there's no point to prosecuting him. She lived near where the fire broke out and died of smoke inhalation.

A report released by fire investigators last week concluded that the blaze was caused by Lyle Teuscher's improper disposal of fireplace ashes in Washoe Valley south of Reno. Prosecutors now are reviewing the report.

Gammick said the family's stance against a prosecution won't be a factor in the decision whether to file charges against Teuscher, 58.

"That's not their call," he told The Associated Press. "Most times family members want something done. I've run across that quite a bit. I tell them it's not their call."

Prosecutors will weigh a variety of factors in reaching the decision. While Teuscher promptly stepped forward to admit his role in the blaze and expressed deep remorse, the fire caused Hargis' death and an estimated $4.5 million in property damage.

"This is a death case," Gammick said. "The destruction and all that is money and property. We're talking human life ... and it's more than simple arson and property damage."

Gammick said it would take time for his office to review separate reports by fire investigators and the Washoe County Sheriff's Office.

"We're not anywhere near to a decision. I don't want to speculate when a decision will be made," he said.

Teuscher told investigators he disposed of the ashes in a metal trailer outside his home about four days before the fire began. Whipped by wind gusts approaching 80 mph, the blaze quickly spread through grass and brush made tinder dry by lack of rain and snow, and ended up burning five square miles.

Teuscher said he always checked the temperature of ashes and "thought all the ashes were cold and safe enough to deposit in the trailer for later dumping," according to the report. He was not home when the fire started.

While she lost her mother, house, barn and all three horses in the fire, Hargis' daughter, Jeannie Watts, said there probably was no need to file criminal charges.

"What good is that going to do? Everything is already gone," Watts said two days after the fire erupted. "He'll pay the rest of his life for that."

Her brother, Jim Blueberg, agreed. While the man was guilty of a "silly, stupid mistake," Blueberg said he forgives him and doesn't think a criminal prosecution "would do any good."


©2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Fletcher - 1/19/2013 2:21 PM
0 Votes
"We have laws for a reason and we can't choose to enforce or ignore them at our own discretion." Yes we can; yes, we should. That's why we have juries, and that's why there is Jury Nullification. No law can render justice. A law can only be the signpost that points the way to justice; it's up to the people to get there.

straitshooter - 4/30/2012 8:58 AM
0 Votes
People want to go easy on this guy and most folks agree... but the DA is right. It's not the call of the people. The man broke laws and should be prosecuted. I hope its something fair, community service or a small fine or fire safety classes, but he has to face what he did irregardless of what the public thinks. NO it is not ok to dispose of ashes properly. Accident or not, there is a set of laws that we must abide by. Despite the feelings of the victims or the public, a law was broken... millions in property damage was caused... a person died and he hasn't gotten one of our community service. Yes the DA should prosecute a small case against him. To do otherwise would be too lenient. We have laws for a reason and we can't choose to enforce or ignore them at our own discretion.

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