Law enforcement is dropping charges against two teens accused of igniting fires that decimated east Tennessee, including Gatlinburg.
In a statement Friday, District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said prosecutors can't prove the youth were responsible because there were other factors contributing to the fire's seriousness, such as 80-mph (130-kph) winds and downed power lines that ignited flames.
Chimney Tops 2 Fire November 27, 2016. Total losses were estimated to be around $1 billion.
The fire was the state's deadliest in more than a century.
The decision to prosecute any individuals alleged to have caused a fire within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will now exclusively be up to the discretion of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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Because of this intervening weather event, the State is unable to prove the criminal responsibility of two juveniles beyond a reasonable doubt for the devastation that occurred outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee said Friday they are reviewing the case "in order to determine whether it is appropriate to seek approval from the Attorney General to prosecute juvenile offenders in federal court".
Greg Isaacs, the attorney for one of the boys involved, defended his client at a press conference Friday and told reporters that people in Gatlinburg should not feel frustrated by the decision.
"How do you teach young adults a lesson by letting them go after killing 14 people and disrupting all our lives by destroying everything I own, including my two cats?" Dunn said there are competing documents concerning the state of Tennessee's jurisdiction and the National Parks Service, one of which lists the GSMNP and the other does not.
10News has made numerous public records requests of area governments and agencies, seeking information about how authorities addressed the fires beginning with the November 23 fire that started on the Chimney Tops trail inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.