PG&E Pleads Guilty to 84 Counts of Manslaughter in 2018 Camp Fire
Bankrupt utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from the 2018 Camp Fire, California’s deadliest on record with 84 fatalities. PG&E’s equipment sparked the fire that spread across a swath of Northern California.
During a live-streamed court proceeding yesterday PG&E’s CEO and President, Bill Johnson, declared, “Our equipment started that fire.” “I wish there was some way to take back what happened, or to take away the impact, the pain that these people have suffered,” Johnson said. “But I know that can’t be done.”
During the proceedings, Butte County Superior Court Judge, Michael Deems, read the names of each individual killed in the Camp Fire and displayed their photographs in the courtroom. Johnson, who was present in the courtroom, told the court that PG&E is “deeply, deeply sorry for this event and the tragic consequences” and stated he entered the guilty pleas with regret and “eyes wide open to what happened and to what must never happen again.”
Additionally, PG&E pled guilty to one count of unlawfully and recklessly causing the November 2018 fire as a result of the company’s gross negligence in maintaining a power line. “We can’t replace all that the fire destroyed, but we do hope by pleading guilty, by accepting accountability, by compensating victims, supporting rebuilding and making significant lasting changes to the way we operate, we can honor those who were lost and help this community move forward,” PG&E’s Johnson said upon entering the guilty pleas.
The Camp Fire reportedly claimed more than 18,800 structures, including 13,696 single-family homes and 528 businesses. Judge Deems is expected to formally sentence PG&E on either Thursday or Friday, however no individuals will be imprisoned for the company’s crimes. Victims’ impact statements in the case are scheduled to begin today.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2019. The company has agreed to pay a maximum fine of $3.5 million in addition to $500,000 for the cost of an extensive investigation. Butte County District Attorney, Mike Ramsey, stated during a public news conference that he hoped PG&E’s guilty pleas would send a message to other U.S. corporations.
“This was a historic moment, and hopefully a historic moment for corporate America — to know that prosecutors wherever will not allow them to get away with recklessly endangering the lives of the citizens that they serve,” Ramsey said.
Johnson stated that PG&E is focused on reducing wildfires in the future to ensure the “tragedy that occurred here never occurs again.” “The lessons PG&E learned from the Camp Fire are being taken to heart and are driving comprehensive changes currently underway at PG&E,” he said.
PG&E is nearing the end of a complicated bankruptcy case, the result of which equals $25.5 billion in settlements to be paid for damages from multiple fires occurring as early as 2017, where dozens of additional fatalities were reported. A federal judge is expected to issue a final ruling on PG&E’s bankruptcy plan by June 30.