LOS ANGELES -- A German architect on Wednesday was ordered to stand trial on manslaughter charges for the death of a firefighter who was crushed after a portion of a ceiling collapsed during a fire at a luxury Hollywood Hills home.
Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan held that architect Gerhard Albert Becker engaged in deliberate deception and intended to evade building codes during construction of the house. The judge said he was concerned about testimony that indicated Becker put in wooden fireplaces behind drywall.
"He acted recklessly and with gross negligence," Tynan said at the end of a lengthy preliminary hearing.
Becker pleaded not guilty and will be arraigned on Dec. 12.
Investigators believe the Feb. 16, 2011, fire began in a top floor fireplace. A ceiling gave way as veteran firefighter Glen Allen was fighting the flames, and chain saws had to be used to free him from the debris.
Allen died two days later. Five other people were injured.
Becker is a well-known architect in Europe who was working on his first U.S. project. The three-story 12,000-square-foot home was to have been the location of a photo shoot for the reality TV show "Germany's Next Top Model."
The 48-year-old owned the mansion and was also the construction contractor. The fire broke out shortly after a certificate of occupancy was issued.
Becker installed outdoor fireplaces indoors and ignored warnings on the packaging that said the fireplaces were intended for outdoors use only, Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney said. No venting was provided and combustible materials were used, he said.
The fire was inevitable and could have happened after the models for the TV show had moved in, Carney said. The TV show had been scheduled to start shooting two days later.
"One can only imagine what could have happened to those models," he said.
Becker's confidence in the home's safety was evident because he was sleeping in the just completed house when the fire broke out, attorney Donald Re said. He blamed a building and safety inspector for approving the construction, but the Los Angeles city building inspector -- Brad Bascos -- testified he never saw any fireplaces during the inspection.
After the fire, Bascos said he found four fireplaces that had been installed in violation of building codes. He said they were made of drywall and two-by-fours with electrical extension cords and plugs hidden behind the walls.
Had he seen the fireplaces, he would have never approved them, Bascos said.
Carney ended his presentation with an email from Becker to a building contractor who was reconstructing the house after the fire.
Becker asked for the similar fireplaces to be installed, Carney said, then read from the email: "I want this to be installed after the final inspection so that we don't have any final delays by the inspector."
"Not only did he construct a fireplace that killed Glen Allen," Carney said. "He wanted to do it again."