Two Fires, Two Investigations: Charges Filed In One, Not The Other

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RENO, NV - November's Lyon Drive Fire in New Washoe City and the destructive Washoe Drive Fire across the valley in January of 2012 were both started by men disposing fireplace ashes.

One man is now facing criminal charges. The other isn't. Some are asking why.

The two fires were investigated by different agencies. Last November's Lyon Drive fire was investigated by the newly created Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District.

It's conclusion: 75 year old Joseph Clark had started the fire by throwing ashes on an adjacent lot. The District Attorney's office says that amounts to a criminal act of negligence, failing to guard or extinguish fire materials.

The D-A's office could reach no such conclusion concerning 58 year old Lyle Tauscher who it's determined started the Washoe Drive fire in January of 2012.

The problem says D-A Dick Gammick was an incomplete investigation by the Reno Fire Marshal's investigator.

"My concern was we had a 93 year old lady who died in that fire," says
District Attorney Dick Gammick," and I wanted to make sure we had a full and complete investigation which we didn't get."

Speaking of the Reno investigator, Gammick says "he did not seize the ash bucket. He did not seize any other physical evidence at the scene. To this date none of that has been done."

Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez disagrees, noting Tauscher had disposed of the 3 day old ashes in a metal trailer, something he had done many times before.

"He was doing something that he'd always done in the past," says Hernandez. "Unfortunately there were some embers that were still active that triggered the fire."

Hernandez stands by his investigator and his work.

"We felt our investigation was exhaustive and complete. We have since held to that position and will continue to hold to that position."

While November's fire caused little damage, the Washoe Drive fire burned 29 homes and a 93 year old woman died in the flames. Her death made the investigation a two agency effort, the fire marshal looking into the cause of the fire, the sheriff's office investigating her death. Gammick says there were coordination problems between the two.

Hernandez disputes that, but both men say there have been conversations between the two offices to head off any future problems.