Fatal Gender Reveal Stunt Leads to Jail Time

California's Refugio Jimenez Jr. cops to involuntary manslaughter after firefighter died in El Dorado Fire
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 13, 2024 11:51 AM CST
Gender Reveal Stunt That Led to Firefighter's Death Ends in Jail
Firefighters arrive at the Rock Church in San Bernardino, California, on Sept. 25, 2020, to attend a memorial for Charles Morton, the US Forest Service firefighter assigned to the Big Bear Hotshots who was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 17, 2020, in the El Dorado Fire.   (Terry Pierson/The Orange County Register via AP, file)

A man whose family's gender reveal photo shoot sparked a Southern California wildfire that killed a firefighter in 2020 has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The El Dorado Fire erupted on Sept. 5, 2020, when Refugio Jimenez Jr., Angelina Jimenez, and their young children staged a photo shoot for their baby gender reveal at El Dorado Ranch Park, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains. A smoke-generating pyrotechnic device quickly ignited dry grass on a scorching day. The couple frantically tried to use bottled water to douse the flames and called 911, but strong winds stoked the fire as it ran through national forest land. The blaze injured 13 and forced the evacuations of hundreds.

Charles Morton, the 39-year-old leader of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad, was killed Sept. 17, 2020, when flames overran a remote area where firefighters were cutting fire breaks. Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years. On Friday, the San Bernardino County DA announced that Refugio Jimenez Jr. had pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure, per the AP. He'll be taken into custody on Feb. 23 to serve a year in jail. His sentence also includes two years of felony probation and 200 hours of community service. Angelina Jimenez pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing fire to property of another. She was sentenced to a year of summary probation and 400 hours of community service.

The couple was also ordered to pay $1,789,972 in restitution. Mike Scafiddi, the lawyer for Refugio Jimenez Jr., said the couple has wanted to speak publicly but can't due to ongoing federal litigation. "They have been praying for Mr. Morton and his family every night since his death," Scafiddi said. "It has touched them profoundly." He said his client had researched and tested the pyrotechnic device before setting it off that day, finding no problems. The US Forest Service in September filed a lawsuit against the pyrotechnic device's manufacturers, distributors, and sellers, as well as the couple. More here.

(More gender reveal party stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.