Court Rules Fire-Starter Caused Fatal Midair
California's First District Court of Appeal has upheld the homicide conviction of a man who started a forest fire that a jury ruled caused the death of two air tanker pilots called to fight the fire. The pilots died after their planes collided near Hopland, south of Ukiah, in 2001. According to the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a Los Angeles newspaper that specializes in legal matters, the court rejected Franklin Neal Brady's claim that the original judge in the case improperly excluded evidence proving one of the pilots had more than the legal limit of alcohol in his system. Brady was sentenced to thirteen years in prison after his conviction of recklessly causing a fire resulting in death, and of manufacturing methamphetamine. The NTSB preliminary report on the accident doesn't establish a probable cause. Much of the narrative focuses on the airspace protocol observed by tanker pilots fighting a fire. A toxicology report is not included. Brady and Richard Mortenson were originally charged with murder but the charges were reduced. Justice Stuart Pollak, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the blood-alcohol content of the pilot in question was irrelevant because there was no evidence suggesting it was linked to the crash. Pollak also found that the original judge was correct in his instruction to the jury that they could find Brady guilty "only if it found that the deaths of the two pilots were foreseeable consequences of starting the fire." Investigators linked the fire to the meth lab but Brady insisted it started by accident from sparks from a fire he lit to heat water for a bath.