Pacific Gas & Electric confessed Tuesday to killing 84 people in a devastating 2018 wildfire that wiped out the Northern California town of Paradise in November 2018. PG&E CEO Bill Johnson entered guilty pleas on behalf of the company for 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from the fire, which was blamed on the company’s crumbling electrical grid. "Our equipment started that fire," said Johnson, who apologized directly to the victims' families. ”PG&E will never forget the Camp Fire and all that it took away from the region." Although the admission was part of a plea deal, it came during a dramatic court hearing designed to publicly shame the nation’s largest utility for neglecting its infrastructure, the AP reports. PG&E has agreed to pay a maximum fine of $3.5 million for its crimes in addition to $500,000 for the cost of the investigation.
Butte County Superior Court Judge Michael Deems read the name of each victim aloud in the courtroom while the images of the dead were shown on large screen as Johnson entered a plea for each of the counts. The fire killed 85 people, but prosecutors weren’t certain they could prove PG&E was responsible for one of the deaths. Johnson also pleaded guilty on behalf of the company to one felony count of unlawfully starting a fire. With no prospect of jail time for a corporation, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey tried to use Tuesday’s hearing to force PG&E to confront the death and destruction stemming from its its corporate culture of placing a greater priority on profits for its shareholders than public safety. The company has agreed to pay $25.5 billion for losses from the 2018 fire and other blazes in 2017 blamed on its equipment.
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