A defense attorney questioned misdemeanor charges against a man accused of accidentally sparking a massive Utah wildfire that destroyed 13 homes and cost some $40 million to fight.
Attorney Andrew Deiss said after a Tuesday court hearing that part of the case against Robert Ray Lyman, 61, could be dismissed for lack of evidence. He didn’t elaborate.
Prosecutor Scott Garrett said authorities have solid evidence for the charges that include reckless burning, The Spectrum newspaper in St. George reported.
Lyman is charged with two misdemeanor counts in the blaze that authorities said was started by weed burning that grew out of control near the southern Utah ski town of Brian Head.
The fire torched more than 100 square miles (258 square kilometers) and forced about 1,500 people to evacuate the area, which is a popular getaway for Las Vegas residents.
Lyman, a former high school and college basketball coach from the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville, is distraught about the damage and grateful for the firefighters who worked to contain the fire, Deiss said.
“Mr. Lyman has lived his life as a coach and an educator with the highest degree of integrity,” Deiss said. “From the start of this investigation, he cooperated, came forward and helped in every way he could.”
Lyman declined to comment. He is due back in court for an evidence hearing on Oct. 11.
If convicted on a reckless burning charge, Lyman could face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. A count of burning without a permit carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Felony charges were not warranted because there was no evidence the fire was set on purpose, the prosecutor said.
“In this case, we charged it as the reckless because we didn’t feel like it was his intent to burn 70,000 acres,” Garrett said.
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