Charges dropped against teenagers accused of arson in Sevier County wildfires

Prosecutors have dropped charges against two Anderson County teenagers they had earlier labeled as responsible for the state’s deadliest wildfire in a century, reports the News Sentinel.

Defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs said the state can’t prove that the horseplay of the boys, ages 17 and 15, sparked a fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that caused the deadly wildfires in Gatlinburg five days later.

“My client and the other juvenile, based on the proof and the evidence, did not cause the death and devastation in Gatlinburg,” Isaacs said during an afternoon news conference inside his in downtown Knoxville law office.

In a written statement, 4th Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn agreed he could not prove his case against the boys. He cited the “unprecedented, unexpected and unforeseeable wind event” that occurred five days after the Chimney Tops fire. Those winds spread deadly embers into Gatlinburg and the surrounding region.

He did not respond to a request for comment, including why he charged the boys with directly causing the Gatlinburg wildfires when he knew before those charges were filed about the winds and the fact that the National Park Service chose to allow the Chimney Tops fire to burn.

Dunn’s prosecution of the boys has been used by local and state agencies to shield release of public records about the fire and the emergency response.

Dunn also did not mention in his statement that… state authorities have had no legal authority to prosecute crimes in the park since 1997.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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