Jury sides with LYSD in Hooper Bay fire trial

by Angela Denning-Barnes on February 29, 2012

Years of court motions and case files stacked feet high ended Feb. 24 without much fan fare in the case brought by the Hooper Bay fire victims of 2006. A 12 person Bethel jury sided with the Lower Yukon School District saying the district wasn’t responsible for the fire. The jury deliberated for less than half an hour.

The devastating Hooper Bay fire was started by children under the school. It quickly spread to about 15 acres of the village, destroying not only the K-12 school but 13 homes and other nearby buildings as well, over 50 structures in all.

Thirty-one Hooper Bay residents sued LYSD, claiming the school district was responsible for the fire because the plywood skirting around the school was not maintained, allowing the children to gain access. The plaintiffs were asking for millions of dollars in damages for their homes and lost personal property. They said the homes built by volunteers after the fire were poorly constructed and not adequate.

On the other side, LYSD said they weren’t responsible because there was no way of predicting the fire. They argued that the fire was set at night by unsupervised children who broke into school property and that better parental control was needed.

The verdict came after two weeks of testimony.

Although the jury sided with the school district, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a motion asking the court for a judgement, not withstanding the verdict. They said the evidence and the jury’s short deliberation warrants it. They said the jury didn’t start deliberating until the evening after a long day in court.

A judge’s decision could take months.

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