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PG&E agrees to $50 million settlement to drop criminal charges related to deadly 2020 Zogg Fire, district attorney says

<i>Ethan Swope/AP/File</i><br/>A house burns on Platina Road at the Zogg Fire near Ono
Ethan Swope/AP/File
A house burns on Platina Road at the Zogg Fire near Ono

By Taylor Romine, CNN

(CNN) — The Shasta County District Attorney’s Office dropped criminal charges against Pacific Gas and Electric Company in relation to the deadly 2020 Zogg Fire in California after the company agreed to pay $50 million and to follow certain commitments, the district attorney’s office announced in a news conference Wednesday.

The settlement comes after PG&E faced 11 charges, including four felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and three felony counts of recklessly starting a fire, CNN previously reported. The fire, which was sparked by a pine tree contacting PG&E electrical lines in September 2020, killed four people and burned more than 56,000 acres.

The two parties agreed to the settlement after a judge ruled in April to overturn another judge’s February decision that there was enough evidence to go to trial, District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said. She is “very disappointed” by the judge’s reversal as she thinks there was plenty of evidence and she could’ve gotten a guilty verdict.

Bridgett said she spoke with the families of the victims who died and “they understand and agree” their office should move forward with the settlement, which is pending final approval of the court.

“I want to emphasize that this resolution does not make me happy,” she said during the news conference. “It doesn’t bring back the people who lost their lives. It’s not going to bring back the people – their homes they lost. It doesn’t do those things. Taking PG&E to trial and holding them criminally responsible was our goal, but as I’ve outlined, that is not something we are going to be able to do.”

PG&E countered the claim that there was enough evidence to move forward with the trial, saying in a news release, “The court’s tentative order noted there were multiple inspections in the area before the fire, that there was no evidence that PG&E’s multiple inspections fell below the industry standard of care, and there also was no evidence that a risk involving the tree was visible before the fire.”

“The agreement reflects our continuing commitment to making it right and making it safe,” Patti Poppe, chief executive officer of PG&E Corporation, said in the release. We stand behind our thousands of trained and experienced coworkers and contractors working every day to keep Californians safe. We feel strongly that those good-faith judgments are not criminal.”

As part of the stipulated judgment filed Wednesday, PG&E is required to perform work commitments in the community that will be overseen by the district attorney’s office, including undergrounding electrical wires and adding additional weather stations, which are used to know when a power shut off needs to occur, Bridgett said. The $50 million will help fund fire services and prevention in Shasta County and memorials for the four people who died, she said.

The $50 million payment cannot be charged to customers or be recovered in customer rates, the judgment says.

The district attorney’s office decided not to move forward with the criminal case after the April decision because they were concerned if they challenged it, it would give precedence for companies like PG&E to not be charged in the future, Bridgett said.

“It’s justice of what we could get given the circumstances that we are faced with,” she said. “I agree wholeheartedly that getting a criminal conviction can be a way to force the change that needs to happen. That was my number one goal. But I had to do what was best for our community given the posture of the case.”

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