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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 6:03 pm | Fair 65º


DA Using Case of Severely Burned Teen as Cautionary Tale

Officials and Jacob Keefer's parents hope others will learn from the teenager's traumatic injuries

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley hopes the criminal case against two 14-year-olds stemming from the severe burns suffered by a friend will serve as a cautionary tale to other youths and families.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley hopes the criminal case against two 14-year-olds stemming from the severe burns suffered by a friend will serve as a cautionary tale to other youths and families. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

What started as three 14-year-old boys playing in a Santa Barbara backyard ended in tragedy after one of them was severely burned and left with life-threatening injuries last February.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office and the injured boy’s family are hoping to use the prosecution of the case as a cautionary tale to parents and their children.

Jacob Keefer, a Santa Barbara Junior High School student, was severely burned on Feb. 28 when he and two friends were playing with fire in the backyard of a house in the 700 block of California Street on Santa Barbara’s Riviera. 

Jacob’s family later stated on a fundraising site established to help with medical bills that the boy “was splashed with lighter fluid that immediately set flames to the upper half of his body. This includes his waist, chest, arms, hands, face and neck.”

Keefer was rushed to the hospital in critical condition and later received extensive treatment from the Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center Burn Unit. He continues to recover in Santa Barbara.

A press conference was held Monday morning outside the office of District Attorney Joyce Dudley, who spoke with reporters about the decision to allow the juveniles to meet certain conditions in order for the felony charges they face to be dropped.

Last week, Dudley announced that the two boys with Keefer that day — identified only as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 — will face two felony counts, including arson of property and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.

Keefer’s mother was in attendance at the press conference on Monday, but did not make a statement.

Dudley said she’d come to know Jacob's family over the last six months, and that the family hopes no one will have to endure a similar incident.

Because the case involves juveniles, Dudley could not discuss the facts of the case or name the charged young people.

“They were good friends, all of them, with promising future,” she told reporters. “They used really poor judgment, and now they want to do all they can to make amends.”

Tara Haaland-Ford, who represents one of the boys accused of the crimes, said that her client was Jacob’s best friend at the time of the incident.

The other boy’s attorney, Megan Leisz, was not in attendance at the press conference and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Haaland-Ford could not speak as to exactly what prompted the incident other than “three boys that got an idea in their head” that had tragic repercussions.

“Three friends hanging out together made split second decisions that have changed them all forever,” she said.

The boys did not have any criminal records before the incident and have not had any contact with Jacob since.

“They would like to be in touch with Jacob, but it’s a process,” she said.

Dudley described the pre-plea diversion agreement, which was the result of six months of meetings with law enforcement, Fire Department officials, attorneys for both Jacob’s family and the suspects, and the DA’s office.

They came to an agreement on the terms last week, and Keefer's mother wanted the experience to be one that stuck with the boys.

“She always felt that she wanted them to learn from it, to become better men, and to impress upon the community how dangerous this is,” Dudley said.

The boys will have to work for 10 days with child cancer victims, and while the initial goal was to have them work with burn victims, the facilities that were found would not take juvenile volunteers.

Additionally, they will have to attend a program for fire education “to understand the ramifications of the danger of fire," Dudley said.

They also will have to complete 60 hours of community service in Santa Barbara County, and will not be able to possess any incendiary device or participate in any sort of social media, including Snapchat and Instagram.

The boys also must meet with Jacob’s mother, who will show them photos of what her son endured, Dudley said.

“They’re going to write a letter, one to Jacob’s mom and one to Jacob, explaining what they learned and how they feel about what happened,” she said.

Three months of counseling will also be required, and all of the terms will need to be completed by Feb. 29, 2016.

If they do not meet the criteria, they will face the criminal charges through the court system.

Though the charges will be dismissed if the terms are met, "it will never go away” for anyone involved, Dudley said.

As for Jacob, Dudley described him as "a beautiful extraordinary young man" and that he was recovering from his injuries.

“He’s still in a lot of pain," she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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