Tennessee Drops Case Against Teens Accused Of Causing Deadly Wildfire

A still frame from a video Chris Owenby took as he escaped on the night of Nov. 28 2016

Charges were dropped against two Tennessee teenagers who had been charged with starting the fatal and destructive Gatlinburg wildfires last November.

He said his firm's investigation showed the two juveniles didn't cause the damaging fires in Gatlinburg or outlying parts of the county.

The release goes on to say, "Once the investigation confirmed multiple fires with multiple points of origin, it became impossible to prove which fire may have caused the death of an individual or damage to a particular structure". Total losses were estimated to be around $1 billion. But the Chimney Tops II fire jumped over to Gatlinburg four days later, and it wouldn't have done so without the unexpected, high-speed winds that occurred, he wrote in a statement.

Further complicating matters, a "Memoranda of Agreement", which says the state of Tennessee cannot prosecute criminal acts that occur within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, because it is federal property.

Dunn said his office notified the defense and sought instruction from the State Attorney General's office about whether or not Dunn has jurisdiction to prosecute. That means the teens could be charged federally since the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is federal property.

Tennessee Drops Case Against Teens Accused Of Causing Deadly Wildfire
Tennessee Drops Case Against Teens Accused Of Causing Deadly Wildfire

District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn from the 4th Judicial district has filed an order dismissing the charges.

"My client and the other juvenile, based on the proof and the evidence, did not cause the death and devastation in Gatlinburg", Isaacs said during a news conference.

However, if the Dept. of Justice believes the two juveniles committed a crime within the park's limits, federal charges can still be brought against them.

In a four-page statement released shortly after noon Friday, Dunn said he'd decided his office couldn't prove the fires that took 14 lives and damaged more than 2,500 structures in Sevier County on November 28 can be traced back to the fire started by two juveniles on the Chimney Tops Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on November 23. "This office would also like to thank and commend the hundreds of firefighters and police officers from the national, regional, state and local levels for their extraordinary bravery and courage in confronting these fires".

"I think people aren't looking for scapegoats, I think they're looking for answers".

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