PG&E to plead guilty to lethal crimes in 2018 wildfires

SAN FRANCISCO — Pacific Gas & Electric will plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for a swath of death and destruction left behind after its fraying electrical grid ignited a 2018 wildfire that decimated three Northern California towns and drove the nation’s largest utility into bankruptcy.

The plea agreement announced Monday resolves the charges facing PG&E as part of a previously sealed indictment in Butte County. It marks the second time this decade that the company’s neglect has culminated in it being deemed a criminal. PG&E already is serving a five-year criminal probation imposed after it was convicted of six felony counts for falsifying records and other safety violations underlying a natural gas explosion that blew up a neighborhood and killed eight people in San Bruno, Calif.

As with its prior criminal conviction, no one from PG&E will go to prison for the company’s felony crimes. Instead, its plea agreement with the Butte County District Attorney’s Office calls for PG&E to pay a $4 million fine, the maximum allowed. It will also help pay for efforts to restore access to water for residents affected by the loss of a canal destroyed by what became known as the Camp Fire.

“We cannot replace all that the fire destroyed, but our hope is that this plea agreement, along with our rebuilding efforts, will help the community move forward from this tragic incident,” PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said.

In a statement, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said he hopes the plea agreement will bring “a bit of a sense of justice done” for the fire.

Butte County officials have pegged the 2018 wildfire’s death toll at 85, but Ramsey disclosed Monday that further evidence cast doubt about whether one of the deaths was directly caused by the blaze.

PG&E is scheduled to enter its plea and face sentencing at a court hearing scheduled for April 24.

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