California’s largest utility company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) confessed Tuesday to killing 84 people in a wildfire that nearly destroyed Paradise, California, in 2018.
PG&E chief executive Bill Johnson appeared before a Butte County courthouse, where he pled guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of unlawfully starting a fire, the Associated Press reported.
The proceedings were broadcasted on a Zoom video stream, and during the confession Johnson repeated “guilty, your honor” 84 times as Butte County Superior Court Judge Michael Deems read the names and put up pictures of each victim, the New York Times reported.
California officials had been investigating the causes of recent wildfires, including a campfire that ultimately devastated the town of Paradise in November 2018. Home to around 27,000 residents, nearly 95% of its infrastructure was destroyed by the fire.
Authorities blamed PG&E and after months of investigation the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection determined that faulty PG&E equipment led to the Paradise wildfire. (RELATED: Power Lines, Not Global Warming, Caused California’s Massive Wildfires, Officials Say)
PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019 after a string of settlements forced the company to pay around $25.5 billion in damages. The company has worked on a plan to get out of its bankruptcy situation, which a federal judge is expected to rule on at the end of the month, according to the Wall Street Journal.
During the proceedings, Johnson reportedly told the judge that PG&E had put profits ahead of safety, and the company admitted responsibility to the faulty electrical grid that caused the Paradise wildfire. Johnson, who became CEO six months after the wildfire, will be stepping down June 30 after the company’s bankruptcy case is decided.
Johnson’s concluding remarks in court, which were published on the company’s website Tuesday, mentioned that PG&E was working on compensating the victims’ families and that the company would be taking greater steps in reducing the risk of wildfires.
“No words from me could ever reduce the magnitude of that devastation or do anything to repair the damage,” Johnson said. “I hope the actions taken today bring some measure of peace.”