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Architect to be tried in death of firefighter

November 28, 2012 |  6:28 pm
Glenn Allen, 61

A German architect charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of a veteran firefighter last year will face a trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Prosecutors allege Gerhard Becker 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.

Building inspectors said Becker informed them he had no plans to include fireplaces inside the mansion, and none were found during a final inspection, court records say. But after the fire, investigators discovered Becker had installed four outdoor fireplaces at the home, violating city building codes.

But Becker’s defense attorney, Donald M. Re, said Becker had installed the fireplaces prior to the house’s final inspection, and he relied on the city’s final approval of the home to judge its safety.

Re told the court that Becker and his fiancee were asleep in the house at the time the 2011 fire broke out, showing his lack of knowledge over any potential danger the fireplaces posed.

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-- Andrew Khouri

Photo: Glenn Allen. Credit: Los Angeles Fire Department
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