Attorney: Arson difficult to prove against teen accused of start - KPTV - FOX 12

Attorney: Arson difficult to prove against teen accused of starting Eagle Creek Fire

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Eagle Creek Fire  (KPTV/Air 12 file image) Eagle Creek Fire (KPTV/Air 12 file image)

Charges filed against a 15-year-old boy suspected of starting the Eagle Creek Fire reflect the extensive burden of proof prosecutors must meet in criminal investigations involving fires that damage property, according to a prominent Portland-area defense attorney.

Of the five charges filed against the teen, reckless burning is the easiest to prove according to Oregon law, said John Henry Hingson.

“It’s a serious misdemeanor.  The maximum punishment is a year in jail.  And-or a $6250 fine,” Hingson said.

The teen, who has not been identified because of his age, is accused by witnesses of throwing a lit firework into a ravine along the Eagle Creek Trail. 

Although it appears to be an intentional act, Hingson said, it would be difficult for a prosecutor to prove he intended to burn down the forest, which would be required to obtain a conviction for arson, which is a felony.

As for damages, Hingson said it would be unlikely a judge in juvenile court would award them.

Individual entities and property owners can sue to be reimbursed for their losses in civil court, but Hingson said that would also be unlikely in this case.

“I don’t see any evidence that the child or parents are of sufficient means to cause any lawyer to be interested in pursuing a civil claim against this child or his parents,” said Hingson.

Under Oregon law, parents can be held liable for damages caused by their children, but there is a $7,500 cap on each claim.

The Hood River County District Attorney’s Office and Oregon State Police announced Thursday the Vancouver teen had been arraigned on a juvenile court petition. The Eagle Creek Fire burned more than 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge.  

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