A 17-year-old male juvenile, whose name has not been released because of his age, has pleaded guilty to a charge related to the Cinema Court Fire on June 12 that burned homes along Pack Creek.
“He plead guilty to the count of causing a catastrophe,” said Ivy Partridge, whose home was destroyed in the fire. Partridge said that she, her husband, Bill, and a handful of other homeowners were present for the court hearing. “They dropped the other charge.”
Grand County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Kim Neal confirmed that the juvenile entered a guilty plea to the charge of causing a catastrophe, a Class A misdemeanor, on Monday, Oct. 15.
“Juvenile court is limited in what you can release. All I can say is that the juvenile was in court. I cannot release his name or details into the nature of the crime,” Neal said on Oct. 17. “The disposition hearing is set for Dec. 10. That will be the time when the juvenile court judge will take that plea and determine what the consequences are — whatever the juvenile court judge determines is applicable.”
The fire temporarily displaced more than 100 people when evacuations were made at Cinema Court Apartments. The fire started in the Pack Creek area behind the apartments, quickly spread through the dried vegetation and trees and destroyed nine homes and various accessory dwellings.
The Grand County Sheriff’s Office investigated the fire and on June 26 charged the juvenile, who was 16 at the time, with causing a catastrophe and reckless burning.
Partridge said she was upset after the most recent court appearance in the case because some of the homeowners affected by the fire have not been involved in the court process or been present for the court hearings.
In describing the court hearing on Oct. 15, Partridge said, “He said ‘yes’ when the judge asked him if he understood what he was agreeing to in court. That’s all he said … I was surprised the judge didn’t make him read his statement. His attorney read it.”
Homeowner Rick Carrigan was also present for the hearing. He and his wife, Becky, lost their home on Wasatch Avenue.
“He should have spoken out on his own,” Carrigan said. “I’m concerned he didn’t speak, but that’s between him and his attorney and the attorney may have said to make no comment.”
Partridge and Carrigan said the juvenile and his family have yet to offer an apology.
“He’s never said I’m sorry, he’s never showed any emotion, he’s never said, ‘I did something wrong,’” Partridge said.
However, the homeowners said that the case was set to go to trial up until “the last minute,” when the juvenile agreed to give a plea instead.
“He may not have said anything because he thought it was going to trial,” Carrigan said.
With the plea entered, the homeowners said the juvenile agreed to enter into mediation.
“He has agreed to, and some of the victims have agreed to, sit down in mediation,” Carrigan said. “An apology, an amends, may be forthcoming.”
In terms of sentencing in juvenile cases, both homeowners expressed dismay at the Utah State Legislature.
Carrigan said, “One of the things I find most frustrating is that the Utah legislature has changed the laws to protect the juveniles … go right on out and do it, and the consequences don’t exist. That’s a foolish thing for our legislature to do.”
Partridge added, “I don’t know what they can really do with this kid because in Utah there were new laws passed last July to make it to where they can give them 36 hours of community service, that’s what we were told. They can’t really do anything.”
Carrigan said he’s concerned that a similar incident could happen in the future because of the limited repercussions for juveniles.
“One of the things I’m really concerned about is mental health (counseling),” Carrigan said. “He needs to get some counseling in this. If they’re going to slap the gavel down and move on without counseling, and turn him loose back in the community, then [we could be] in danger again.”
Partridge said the county has been working continuously to remove dead trees and vegetation in the Pack Creek area, which could be fire fuels if another incident were to occur.
Carrigan said he’s hopeful the juvenile will “turn his life around.”
“All this time, since June, I’ve been scraping up ashes and putting my life back together,” Carrigan said. “If this kid has been … not thinking about the consequences of his actions, that’s pretty unbelievable.”
Partridge said that she thinks the fire has had a larger impact on the victims of the community than the juvenile realizes.
“I’m thankful no one died during the fire, but since the fire, Mr. (Richard N.) Beeson has died,” Partridge said. She said that his and his sister’s home was destroyed in the fire. “We think he had a heart attack. He had no insurance, he didn’t know what he was going to do. They were living out on their brother’s property in La Sal in a camper. I think part of the reason this gentleman had a heart attack is that he was so stressed over all of this.”
Fire victims hope to receive an apology
“He has agreed to, and some of the victims have agreed to, sit down in mediation. An apology, an amends, may be forthcoming.”