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Sockeye fire trial begins in Palmer

By Shannon Ballard 1:10 PM April 20, 2017

The trial for the couple accused of starting the Sockeye fire began Thursday morning inside of a Palmer courtroom.

Greg Imig and Amy Dewitt sat quietly during opening statements and as the prosecution’s first witness took the stand. Dewitt and Imig face 12 charges each for burning without a permit, property damage crimes and reckless endangerment.

The Sockeye fire began on a Sunday afternoon, on June 14, 2015. Fifty-five homes were destroyed; more than 7000 acres of land burned; several animals were killed.

Now, state prosecutors are arguing that the wildfire started on Imig’s property, from an unattended burn pile.

Dewitt and her son called 911 three times to report the fire, as it spread rapidly. But the state is arguing that Imig, Dewitt and her son fled without stopping the fire or warning neighbors.

“They did nothing to put it out or monitor the fire or watch the fire in any way,” said Assistant District Attorney Eric Senta. “In the end, this case is going to about the recklessness.”

Imig’s defense attorney, Kevin Fitzgerald, maintains his client’s innocence. Imig admits he didn’t have a burn permit, but Fitzgerald says his client was burning responsibly.

“The defense expects that, at the conclusion of the trial, you are going to find that the source pit– what the state has characterized as the source pit– is not only inconclusive as it relates to origin but is not the origin of the Sockeye fire,” Fitzgerald said.

Among the witnesses testifying during the first day of trial was Willow Fire Department Capt. Leo Lashock. He recalled his own home burning while he worked to evacuate others.

“[I lost] everything. I mean everything,” Captain Lashock said. “You could shovel the house into buckets.”

Other people who lost their home in the blaze, and watched Thursday’s proceedings, said it was emotional to remember the first day of the Sockeye fire, which was replayed for them again in court, at the very beginning of what’s expected to be a lengthy trial.

Talon Boeve’s family lost 39 acres to the fire, but miraculously, their home survived.

“I’m not sure we’ll be happy with the way it ends, but it’s a natural conclusion and we’ve been waiting for this for quite a while,” Boeve said.

If Imig and Dewitt are found guilty, state statute says they could be required to pay double the amount of the damages caused by the fire, including the costs of extinguishing it.

Fitzgerald is hopeful that the 10 person jury will find Imig not guilty on all charges, besides the burn permit violation. Fitzgerald is also asking for an acquittal on all charges for Dewitt.

The courtroom took a lunch break early-Thursday afternoon.

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