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Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 10:43 pm | Fair 49º


Hearing in Jesusita Case to Focus on Work Permit Statutes

A judge will decide whether one of the charges will stand against the men accused of starting the blaze

A preliminary hearing will determine whether Santa Barbara County’s hot-work permit statutes apply to the two men charged with using power tools to clear a trail near the origin of the May 2009 Jesusita Fire.

Defense attorneys for Craig Ilenstine and Dana Larsen say requiring a permit for a gas-powered, metal-bladed weed cutter is “obviously not the intent of this statute.”

If that were the case, everyone would need a permit to mow their lawn, attorney Sam Eaton said in court Friday.

Ilenstine and Larsen have pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges, for which they’re being tried together.

The prosecution, represented by Senior Deputy District Attorney Jerry Lulejian, has charged the men with misdemeanors of using the tools without a hot-work permit from the county Fire Department, a violation of county code, and for not having proper firefighting equipment, a violation of public resources code.

The defendants used the tools May 5, 2009, the day the Jesusita Fire started. There is no implication in the charges that the trail work caused the fire. If the prosecution wins convictions, however, it will pursue restitution by arguing during the sentencing hearing that the alleged crimes caused the fire.

Lulejian, who has worked on many fire cases, including the one involving the 2007 Zaca Fire, said the hot-work permit issue hasn’t yet been seen in a jury trial. It’s written in broad terms, and the preliminary hearing will determine whether the statute covers everything it appears to, he said.

The statutes regarding hot-work permits aren’t generally known by those outside of oil companies, contractors and the like, he said.

Most county hot-work requests are for welding or grinding, but everyone using metal-bladed tools in wilderness areas needs a permit, county Fire Department spokesman David Sadecki has said. He hadn’t heard of any requests for trail work permits.

Superior Court Judge Jean Dandona scheduled the hearing for April 19, when the readiness and settlement conference also will be handled.

If the first count stands after the preliminary hearing, the case most likely will go to a jury trial. Sentencing could include jail time and/or a fine of up to $25,000.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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