Refugio Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Jimenez made a huge mistake when they set off fireworks at a gender reveal party in a grassy field last September in Yucaipa’s El Dorado Park. However, we don’t believe there was criminal intent that would justify a punishment of up to 20 years in prison such as San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson appears to be seeking.

It was 91 degrees and windy that day. Fires were already scorching tens of thousands of acres of wildlands across the state. The Jimenezes pyrotechnic that would reveal their unborn baby’s gender quickly ignited the field. They tried to put out the flames with a bottle of water before calling 911.

It was too late. The El Dorado Fire burned more than 22,000 acres, destroyed five homes and damaged 22 other structures, killed firefighter Charles Morton and injured 13 more people, including two other firefighters.

DA Anderson and new county Sheriff Shannon Dicus announced that the Jimenezes will face eight felony charges, including an involuntary manslaughter charge in Morton’s death, and 22 misdemeanor charges for damages to structures. The DA said he followed the advice of a grand jury and predicted that, if convicted, the couple would be sentenced to imprisonment for up to and possibly more than 20 years.

That would be a great injustice that should scare all law-abiding folks who might someday make an innocent, unintended mistake that consequently results in property damage, injury or even death to others. The results of the mistake could be tragic, of course, but without criminal intent it should not result in years of imprisonment.

During the past 10 months, the Redlands Community News has received several emails and letters to the editor calling for the prosecution of the Jimenezes. We also remember the 2006 Esperanza Fire, which burned more than 41,000 acres near Cabazon and killed five firefighters. The arsonist who set the fire was given the death penalty in 2009. That was an appropriate sentence.  

This situation is much different. Our view is that the Jimenezes should face potential punishment that recognizes that they didn’t mean to hurt anyone. They made a stupid mistake that should warrant non-prison punishment such as fines or community service.