15-Year-Old Girl Injured in Accident During Gender Reveal Party
February 12, 2024 - Reading time: 3 minutes
A man whose family's gender reveal photo shoot sparked a Southern California wildfire that killed a firefighter in 2020 has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors said Friday.
The El Dorado Fire erupted on September 5, 2020, when Refugio Jimenez Jr., Angelina Jimenez and their young children staged a photo shoot for their baby gender reveal at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains. A smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was set off in a field and quickly ignited dry grass on a scorching day.
The couple frantically tried to use bottled water to douse the flames and called 911, authorities said. Strong winds stoked the fire as it ran through wilderness on national forest land, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.
Charles Morton, the 39-year-old leader of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad, was killed on September 17, 2020, when flames overran a remote area where firefighters were cutting fire breaks. Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years, mostly with the U.S. Forest Service.
On Friday, the San Bernardino County district attorney announced that Refugio Jimenez Jr. had pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure. He will be taken into custody on February 23 to serve a year in jail.
His sentence also includes two years of felony probation and 200 hours of community service. Angelina Jimenez pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing fire to property of another. She was sentenced to a year of summary probation and 400 hours of community service.
The couple was also ordered to pay $1,789,972 in restitution. “Resolving the case was never going to be a win,” District Attorney Jason Anderson said in a news release, offering his condolences to Morton’s family.
To the victims who lost so much, including their homes with valuables and memories, we understand those are intangibles can never be replaced.” The U.S. Forest Service filed a lawsuit against the pyrotechnic device's manufacturers, distributors, and sellers, as well as the couple.
The lawsuit alleges that the “Smoke Bombs” used were illegal in California and known to be defective. Mike Scafiddi, the lawyer for Refugio Jimenez Jr., said the couple has wanted to speak publicly about the fire, its impact on the community and Morton's death but cannot because of the ongoing federal litigation.
“They have been praying for Mr. Morton and his family every night since his death,” Scafiddi told The Associated Press on Sunday. “It has touched them profoundly.”
The lawyer said his client had researched and tested the pyrotechnic device before setting it off that day, finding no problems online or during his test.
“It was unforeseeable in all minds,” he said. Scafiddi said the couple had not, contrary to what's been said publicly for years, hosted a gender-reveal party. He said it was a photo shoot to discover the baby’s gender with the couple, a few relatives and their children.
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