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Charge against Cottonwood Heights man accused of starting fire is dropped

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS – A misdemeanor charge against a Cottonwood Heights man accused of accidentally setting a brush fire on the Fourth of July has been dropped.  Prosecutors say the evidence didn’t back up their original case.

Police are not happy with the decision.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill says they were originally told that Richard Otterstrom’s home was the only one that showed evidence of fireworks being set off near the blaze.  However, a supplemental report from Unified Fire Authority says there were other residents that were also lighting fireworks that were closer to the brush fire’s starting point.  Gill says, “That was not included in the discovery materials that were given to us.  That seemed to indicate that there might have been other sources of that fire than what we had.”

Gill also says people were prohibited from setting off aerial fireworks within 300 feet of a restricted area in Cottonwood Heights, and they were told Otterstrom lived within that prohibited zone.  After the misdemeanor charge was filed, new measurements were taken, and, “They’re actually 940 feet out.  So, it didn’t violate the restricted area,” Gill says.

However, Cottonwood Heights investigators say the distance to the fire really wasn’t a big issue.  Police Lieutenant Dan Bartlett says, “[Otterstrom] was charged with reckless burning.  You don’t have to live within a certain area away from the prohibited area to be charged with reckless burning.”

Bartlett agrees that other residents were lighting fireworks, but, they were using the sprinkler variety that don’t go above 15 feet.  The department maintains that Otterstrom’s home was the only one where evidence of aerial fireworks was found.

Investigators believe there was enough evidence to at least go to a preliminary hearing, and they don’t believe the charge should have been dropped.  “It’s their discretion to do so, I guess.  We just live with it,” Bartlett says.

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