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Architect accused in firefighter's death to face trial

November 29, 2012 |  7:55 am

Architect Gerhard Becker

A German architect charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of a veteran firefighter last year will next appear in court Dec. 12, authorities say.

A judge ruled Wednesday that Gerhard Becker will face trial in the case. Prosecutors allege he negligently installed outdoor fireplaces at his Hollywood Hills home, a decision they say ultimately led to the death of firefighter Glenn Allen.

“He acted recklessly,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Tynan said at the closing of Becker’s preliminary hearing Wednesday.

Authorities have said Becker seemed to be more worried about ensuring that the luxury home sparkled for an upcoming filming of “Germany’s Next Top Model” than guaranteeing that the mansion he designed -- with sweeping views and an infinity pool -- was safe to occupy.

The fireplaces lacked required firebreaks to stop flames from spreading out and consisted of fireboxes “constructed of wood framing and lined with [combustible] drywall in back, top and bottom,” according to a search warrant affidavit.

“No reasonable person would build a fireplace out of wood,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Carney told the court.

More than 80 firefighters rushed to the burning home on North Viewsite Drive the night of Feb. 16, 2011. Nineteen became temporarily trapped as the conflagration spread.

The fire erupted from a third-floor fireplace, shooting upward as flames ate away at wood framing and supports holding up the ceiling. When the ceiling collapsed, several hundred pounds of plaster and lumber crashed onto firefighter Glenn Allen, a nearly 40-year veteran of the Los Angeles Fire Department. His colleagues used chainsaws to dig him out.

Allen died two days later. He had talked about retirement and was awaiting the birth of his first grandchild.

Becker is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 12 for arraignment.

If convicted, he faces a four-year state prison term.

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-- Andrew Khouri at L.A. County Superior Court

Photo: Architect Gerhard Becker. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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