Attorney says charges in the Brian Head Fire criminal case ‘lack factual foundation’

Brian Head fire as it appeared on Highway 143 near Panguitch Lake, Garfield County, Utah, June 27, 2017 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY – An attorney for a Taylorsville man facing charges for accidentally starting the 71,000-acre Brian Head Fire said, “there are charges in this case that we believe lack factual foundation.”

Robert Ray Lyman appeared in front of 5th District Judge Keith Barnes Tuesday where a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Oct. 11. Prosecutors must present enough evidence at that time to show there is probable cause for the case to go forward to trial.

Lyman, 61, is facing charges in 5th District Court for one count of reckless burning, a class A misdemeanor, and one count of failing to notify authorities or failing to obtain a permit before burning, a class B misdemeanor.

If convicted, Lyman could serve a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail and a total of $2,500 for the class A misdemeanor and up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for the class B misdemeanor.

Following Lyman’s brief court appearance, his attorney, Andrew Deiss told news reporters he believes there are issues with the charges filed against his client.

“While we appreciate the prosecutor’s efforts and the investigator’s efforts to get to the bottom of this, there are charges in this case that we believe lack factual foundation, and we think will be exposed in the fullness of time,” Deiss said.

The Salt Lake City-based attorney declined to address the allegations against Lyman but said there are many rumors “spinning around.”

“A lot of them are not true,” he said.

While Deiss declined to elaborate on what rumors, Cedar City News confirmed Tuesday that reports about a weed torch sparking the fire are inaccurate.

Gov. Gary Herbert was the first to tweet about the weed torch while meeting with local officials and emergency management officers on June 20. A series of headlines and news reports later followed – all parroting the information that the fire was started June 17 by a weed torch Lyman used to clear off the property at his Brian Head cabin. Several authorities have also continued to corroborate the story.

Public Information Officer for the governor’s office, Kirsten Rappleye, said the governor tweeted the information about the weed torch based on reports he received by officials.

“Initial briefings during his visit used the words, ‘weed torch,’ which is when it was tweeted,” Rappleye said. “He had a briefing with local officials there, and their initial intelligence suggested it was a weed torch.”

Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower told Cedar City News Lyman was not using a weed torch but a lighter, information he received from the primary investigator, BLM Special Agent Rand Stover.

“Yeah it was a meeting I was in and he (Stover) told all of us that day that, contrary to popular belief it was not a weed torch but a lighter,” Gower said. “I don’t know that it matters that much since he still was allegedly burning when he shouldn’t have been. But some people might look at it like, a weed torch puts out a lot more fuel and bigger flames than a little lighter so it might matter to some. It’s all in your perception of how you see it.”

Stover was not available for comment and Lyman declined to answer questions following court.

While speaking on behalf of his client, Deiss shared with reporters some of Lyman’s feelings about the fire itself.

“Like all of us, Bob Lyman is distraught about the damage the fire caused,” Deiss said. “And like all of us, he’s grateful to the men and women, the first responders, who had to fight the fire, and those who had to deal with the aftermath.”

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Lyman was a longtime West High School head basketball coach and Weber State University assistant basketball coach. He was named by the Tribune as coach of the year in 2009, after leading West High to the 4A championship.

The Brian Head fire burned for nearly a month threatening the popular ski town and forcing 1,500 people to evacuate across Iron and Garfield counties. The fire destroyed 13 residences and cost more than $40 million to fight. Rehabilitation efforts are expected to have a price tag that doubles or triples that amount.

Utah will likely share in paying for the costs of the wildfire with the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM.

The state may also seek restitution from Lyman, but the amount they receive will depend on the defendant’s ability to pay. Lyman’s insurance may pay for some of the damages.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • Caveat_Emptor August 16, 2017 at 9:01 am

    I think we can all get aligned around the proposition that this idiot was not intentionally trying to start a forest fire, however, through his negligence, he did. Whether matches, a weed torch, a Bic lighter, he was in charge of the ignition source attempting to burn some weeds/vegetation, contrary to applicable laws.
    This was not an act of arson, but criminal negligence.

  • Miranda August 16, 2017 at 9:27 am

    It was going to burn either way. It wasn’t a matter of “If” it was a matter of “When”. If they had properly been logging the area to get rid of the dead trees that they were protecting for a beetle that was killing all of them, this fire wouldn’t have been even close to this size! Yes he shouldn’t have been burning on a no burn day but I don’t think he should be punished to that extent at all. Actual criminals get off easier then he is.

  • Mike Carter August 16, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    If he applied for a permit for burning and was allegedly denied said permit, this person needs to be accountable for his actions. Don’t care about his alleged coaching or high status nor that he used a bic lighter, he caused heartache for a bunch a people, hope he has great insurance. I’ve seen claims denied for the smallest things. He deserves to pay, good luck getting 40 mil, but if he lives out of the county and has a vacay home I’m sure he can help all these poor people he has hurt so much.

  • comments August 16, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    Humm, you know, if it were some halfwit utah hillbilly with a weed torch you could almost, just almost, forgive such stupidity. But this guy has no excuse. And a lighter? Like a 99cent bic lighter? What in the holy hell? This frickin idiot should do some hard time. It actually is a crime to be that stupid. Or did the clown set the fire intentionally? Unbelievable.

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