Crime & Justice

Case of couple charged with starting Sockeye fire headed to trial

PALMER — The Anchorage couple charged with starting last year's destructive Sockeye fire in Willow is headed to trial.

Prosecutors say Greg Imig, 60, and Amy DeWitt, 42, burned a pile of debris on June 14, 2015, without clearing the area or having water on hand, allowing the fire to escape into a forest before they drove away in their motor home. The resulting fire destroyed 55 homes and more than 100 structures and cost more than $8 million to fight.

Imig and DeWitt have yet to show up in person in a courtroom. But in a Palmer District Court hearing Friday afternoon, attorneys for Imig and DeWitt said by phone that both had rejected an offer from the Palmer District Attorney's office.

"From Mr. Imig's perspective, it looks like we need to schedule trial," said Kevin Fitzgerald, Imig's attorney.

District Attorney Roman Kalytiak said last month the state was negotiating an offer to potentially avoid a costly, monthlong trial as the state is struggling with a massive budget shortfall.

The state expects to call scores of witnesses, including firefighters, victims, state troopers and fire investigators.

Kalytiak had said it was likely any offer would involve Imig and DeWitt acknowledging their actions constituted criminally negligent burning rather than just burning without a permit. They would also need to admit their conduct endangered people in Willow.

It's unclear when a trial will be scheduled. The DA's office is seeking a trial as early as July.

"The earlier the better," said Assistant District Attorney Eric Senta. "This is a very high-interest case."

Imig and DeWitt's attorneys both asked for a trial to begin in October at the earliest.

Scheduling a trial is complicated by the retirement of Palmer Superior Court Judge Eric Smith. The judge assigned to the Sockeye case, David Zwink, has a complicated calendar because he's filling in for Smith.

Imig and DeWitt are each charged with second-degree criminally negligent burning and three counts of reckless endangerment, as well as failure to obtain a burn permit, burning without clearing the area, allowing the fire to spread and leaving the fire unattended. All are misdemeanor offenses.

Zwink scheduled another pretrial conference, the fifth so far, for July 13.

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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