Anger at Tea Fire Pleas

Attorneys for the Tea Fire defendants in conference at the bench of Judge Anderson
Paul Wellman

Despite pleas from Blanca Benedict-mother of Tea Fire burn victim Carla Hoffman, who said the group was “criminally negligent”-two of the so-called Tea Fire 10, Hashim Hassan and Mohammed Alessam, both pled no contest to one count of trespassing only. A second count of having a fire without a permit was dismissed with the plea. The two will each pay $550 in fines and must complete 75 hours of community service. “My clients wanted to get this past them, do their community service, and not have this hanging over their head,” said attorney Adam Pearlman, adding that their thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the fire. The other eight will return to court May 5. Attorney Barry Cappello’s office is investigating the circumstances surrounding the fire.

Blanca Benedict
Paul Wellman

Dugan Kelley, an attorney with Cappello, said, “Somebody’s got to [investigate]. The district attorney didn’t do it.” Hoffman and her husband, Lance, are receiving ongoing care and face long-term rehabilitation. The District Attorney’s Office, after an extensive investigation, decided it wouldn’t be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the group’s campfire-which they say they put out more than 12 hours prior to the start of the Tea Fire on November 13 -in the Tea Garden led to the blaze that destroyed more than 230 homes in Santa Barbara and Montecito.


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