Charges dropped against juveniles in Gatlinburg wildfires

Prosecutors have dropped charges against two Tennessee teenagers they labeled as responsible for the state's deadliest wildfire in a century, an attorney confirmed Friday. District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said the charges were dropped because it is "highly unlikely and improbable that the Chimney Tops II fire would have left the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and reached Gatlinburg".

The case was complicated by the fact that the original fire, called Chimney Tops II, started inside the national park.

The National Park Service is still investigating the fire. As the next step, the NPS was expected to present the case to the US Attorney's Office.

Law enforcement officials announced Friday that the investigation, led by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, is complete. "I think they're looking for answers". When she heard the news Friday, she said she was numb.

Dunn said his office notified the defense and sought instruction from the State Attorney General's office about whether or not Dunn has jurisdiction to prosecute. At the time the charges were filed, the two were being held in the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center.

"Our firm's independent investigation revealed (what happened on the Chimney Tops trail) did not cause the Gatlinburg fires beyond a reasonable doubt", Isaacs said.

"I think people aren't looking for scapegoats, I think they're looking for answers". A big question has been answered, he said.

He said the prosecution showed good judgment by dropping the charges after what appeared to be an "unfortunate rush to judgment". "Clearly that investigation is over so there is no reason whatever, if there ever was a reason, to keep these records confidential". The Associated Press generally does not identify juveniles involved with crimes. Officials said the investigation consisted of thousands of investigative hours, over 100 witness and expert interviews, and thousands of pages of documents, recordings and images. "Sevier County and Gatlinburg, along with legal counsel, are moving forward with the process of reviewing and releasing the voluminous records requests, after giving the U.S. Attorney's office an opportunity to review the case".

Vanessa Coleman

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