Although defense attorneys wanted to dismiss charges against a Taylorsville man accused of starting the Brian Head Fire two years ago, a 4th District Court judge ruled on Monday that the case will proceed.
The three-day jury trial is currently set for Dec. 17-20 after being rescheduled three times.
Prosecutors and Judge James Brady expressed concerns about finding jury members during the holiday season, but defense attorneys pushed for the December date.
Robert Ray Lyman, 62, listened intently on Monday as his attorney, Andrew Deiss, argued in a Provo courtroom that the term “reckless” does not accurately describe the actions Lyman took before burning weeds near his cabin in June 2017.
“Did Mr. Lyman consciously disregard the risk?” Deiss said. “The facts show he did not.”
Lyman reportedly sprayed water on the ground around his cabin, filled gallon jugs with water and prepared a water hose before he raked tree debris into piles and lit one of the piles using a lighter and lighter fluid.
But as the flames spread out of control, Lyman allegedly realized the hose he prepared did not reach the burn pile and the water jugs were too heavy to carry. He called 911, but the wildfire continued to burn, eventually exceeding more than 71,673 acres in Iron and Garfield counties.
“He never intended to start a forest fire,” Deiss said. “He did take precautions, multiple precautions.”
Deputy Iron County attorney Shane Klenk argued the statute for recklessness is an objective term determined by the supposed actions an “ordinary” person would take to prevent a forest fire, not whether or not Lyman thought his actions were enough.
The judge agreed, adding that evidence like the time of year, the temperature, the location and size of the fire along with Lyman’s efforts to stop the wildfire should be examined and judged by jury members rather than a judge.
“State of mind is usually not provable by direct evidence,” Brady said. “The arguments come down to circumstances that need to be weighed.”
Deiss also filed to allow the definition of the word “reckless” to be repeated during opening and closing arguments during the trial to help the jury adjust to the legal definition.
“The laymen term ‘reckless’ does not overlap with the definition of ‘recklessness’ under our criminal code. Presentation of the applicable definition at the beginning of the proceedings will promote a fair trial by giving the jury the information it will be asked to apply during the deliberations,” Deiss wrote in the court filing.
The judge ruled he plans to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to the word “reckless” during the trial to avoid influencing the jury.
“Admittedly, the term recklessness is difficult to define in legal terms,” Brady said.
Lyman pleaded not guilty to a class A misdemeanor for reckless burning and a class B misdemeanor of burning during a closed season.
The Brian Head Fire caused more than a thousand residents living near Brian Head Ski Resort to evacuate for nearly two weeks as firefighters battled the blaze.