LOS ANGELES (AP) – A German architect who built and designed a sprawling mansion in the Hollywood Hills pleaded not guilty to manslaughter Wednesday in the death of a firefighter who was killed battling a blaze when a ceiling saturated with water collapsed on him.
Gerhard Albert Becker, who also owned the home, entered his plea in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He was jailed on $2 million bail and ordered to return to court March 1 for a preliminary hearing.
Becker was also the home's construction contractor, and authorities say the shoddy way he put it together, including putting a fireplace on the third floor that was designed only for outside use, led to the fire.
"The fire started as the result of gross negligence," Police Charlie Beck told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.
Beck also said he was not aware of any other case in which shoddy building work led to an involuntary manslaughter charge.
"It's certainly rare," he said.
Becker left the country soon after the home was destroyed on Feb. 16, 2011, but authorities said there was no indication he was trying to avoid arrest at the time. He is a German citizen and his 90-day visa was about to expire, Beck said.
He was arrested Saturday when he arrived in Los Angeles from Spain, where he has a home.
Authorities say the blaze that began in the fireplace burned through a plastic sprinkler pipe and filled the home's attic with water until the ceiling collapsed on 61-year-old firefighter Glen Allen. Five other firefighters also were injured.
Allen died two days later. The firefighter-paramedic had nearly 40 years with the department and was less than a year away from retirement.
Allen was the first city firefighter to be killed in the line of duty since March 2008, when Brent Lovrien died in an explosion near Los Angeles International Airport as he investigated an earlier blast that blew manhole covers into the air.