LAPD: Reality TV home where firefighter died was ‘extreme’ threat
The $11-million mansion in the Hollywood Hills was a 13,500-square-foot showstopper –- described on a real estate website as a "triumph to modern architecture" and "perfect for enjoying the Southern California lifestyle." In fact, just two days after a deadly fire, it was scheduled to be the backdrop for a reality television show, "Germany's Next Top Model."
But now, prosecutors allege that the home was more glitz than substance -– and that it was essentially a deathtrap.
After a yearlong investigation, prosecutors on Wednesday charged Gerhard Albert Becker, 48, the home's architect and owner, with involuntary manslaughter for knowingly ignoring safety recommendations and altering the home after inspections. Becker has pleaded not guilty.
In court records, authorities offer a detailed account of how Becker cut corners –- sometimes for speed and aesthetics.
Building inspectors said Becker had told them there were no plans to build fireplaces in the home, and none were spotted during a final inspection. After the fire, investigators discovered that he had installed four outdoor fireplaces inside the home, a violation of city building codes. He told investigators after Allen's death that "he did not consider them to be fireplaces but rather architectural features or decorations," according to court records.
One of the fireplaces was described as an 18-foot "fire trough." Another vented into the same room it was built in. And they were built on what authorities described as "combustible materials."
"This man built an 18-foot fire trough designed for outdoors inside the home. It was a recipe for disaster," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Carney. "He essentially put this fireplace on 2-by-4s."
A search warrant affidavit filed by LAPD Det. Gregory M. Stearns described the fireplaces as a "present, extreme, immediate and imminent hazard."
In February 2011, the deadly fire broke out from a fireplace on the third floor, racing upward and through the mansion's attic, eating away at wood framing and supports holding up the ceiling. More than 80 firefighters raced to the home, and 19 were temporarily trapped as the fire spread. Veteran firefighter Glenn Allen was on the ground floor when several hundred pounds of plaster and lumber fell on him. His colleagues dug him out using chainsaws to cut through the debris, but his injuries were so severe that he died two days later.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: Funeral procession in February 2011 for Los Angeles firefighter Glenn Allen, who was killed battling a blaze in the Hollywood Hills. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times.