After Abrupt Deaths of 2 Key Witnesses, U.S. Prosecutors Drop Case in Massive Yosemite Fire

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Dusty LaChapelle from the El Dorado County Fire District moves away from the fast-moving Rim Fire on Sunday. His crew managed to keep the flames away from livestock. (Credit: Dan Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

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The abrupt deaths of two key witnesses has caused the U.S. Attorney’s office to dismiss an indictment against a bow hunter accused of starting an illegal campfire that sparked the third-largest fire in recorded state history.

Keith Matthew Emerald, 32, of Columbia, Calif., was charged with setting timber on fire and lying to a government agency when questioned about the massive Rim fire, which scorched more than 250,000 acres in and around Yosemite National Park in 2013.

But the recent death of two key witnesses, who were expected to testify during the trial, complicated the government’s case.

On Friday, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Emerald because the government was unlikely to prevail in court without the witnesses’ testimony.

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