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Ellis C. Whitby, PE, CSI, AIA, LEED® AP
Senior Member
Username: ecwhitby

Post Number: 156
Registered: 03-2003
Posted on Monday, June 04, 2012 - 02:47 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Does anyone know what the status of trial of the architect who is charged with manslaughter? He was charged in February and I haven’t noticed anything since then.

His design and actions don’t speak highly for the profession, at the least.

Liz O'Sullivan
Senior Member
Username: liz_osullivan

Post Number: 54
Registered: 10-2011

Posted on Monday, June 04, 2012 - 03:21 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

He's not a licensed architect. The media is confused again.

Press release from AIA Los Angeles: http://aialosangeles.org/article/aia-la-statement-on-tragic-death-of-la-firefighter
Liz O'Sullivan
Senior Member
Username: liz_osullivan

Post Number: 55
Registered: 10-2011

Posted on Monday, June 04, 2012 - 03:23 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I know I didn't actually answer your question, Ellis. I don't know the status of the trial of that designer/builder person.
Anne Whitacre, FCSI CCS
Senior Member
Username: awhitacre

Post Number: 1269
Registered: 07-2002

Posted on Monday, June 04, 2012 - 04:40 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I found a couple of hints that there were plea discussions. here's the crux of the relevant California laws, though:

"According to California Law any individual can design a residential building of a certain size. In addition, Los Angeles City regulations do not require an architect to be involved in the vast majority of buildings built in the city. Finally, as was the case in this tragedy, LA City allows anyone, (you, me, your grandmother) providing they own property, to be able to operate as an “owner-builder”.

The later pieces I saw (in various Architect's Newspapers and the like) refer to Becker as a "designer" and have clarified that he is not/was not an architect licensed in the state of California. I can see a few issues though:
even though the "firetroughs" were designed for "exterior use only" (which is being claimed) there are products like that designed for interior use. We've all seen plenty of situations where workers simply go around installing whatever is there to install.
The sprinkler pipe was plastic. (this can't possibly be legal, can it?) no matter that the inspectors crowed about the fireplaces being installed incorrectly, someone should have been looking at the sprinkler piping.
And if Becker actually WAS an architect, he would probably have less blame than if he takes the tactic that he was the owner builder. He has more liability acting as a general contractor than he would as an architect -- so I think a plea sounds about right.
Nathan Woods, CSI, CCCA, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: nwoods

Post Number: 453
Registered: 08-2005

Posted on Monday, June 04, 2012 - 05:00 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Schedule 40 PVC is almost always the basis of design for sprinkler piping in wood framed residential construction, including multi-family buildings up to 5 stories.
Alan Mays, AIA
Senior Member
Username: amays

Post Number: 90
Registered: 02-2003
Posted on Monday, June 04, 2012 - 05:50 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Anne, California law only allows single family home with wood frame construction, multi-dwelling of 4 or less (not part of a complex), Garages and other types of buildings as appurtenant to the homes and Agriculture/Ranch buildings deemed by the AHJ to not endanger the public's HSW. All must be wood framed construction. Paragraph 5537 of the Architect's Act. As far as LA City, I would not think they would allow anyone to get a building permit on any other type of building without a architect,s seal since that would be in violation of state law.

With that said, the key points of this case is that he was charged with a criminal case and not a civil case. While he may be able to plea this out and not serve time, he more than likely will be served civil cases from the LAFD, the FD union and the insurance company for the victim. Let's also not forget the possible case from the victims family. This guy has a hefty legal bill to deal with in the future if all the possible cases really happen and go to court. His reputation is ruined and if he is a decent human being, the death of a fire fighter should weigh heavily on his conscience due to his E&Os. Finally, since it was his own building, I would bet that his insurance company will not pay him any damages for his home. According to some additional information that I heard, the plans that he submitted did not match what was actually built (surprise!).
Ellis C. Whitby, PE, CSI, AIA, LEED® AP
Senior Member
Username: ecwhitby

Post Number: 157
Registered: 03-2003
Posted on Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - 09:05 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


What is the rational to require that all single family homes be wood framed? Safety, because of earthquakes? I am aware that historically unreinforced masonry performed poorly as had improperly reinforced concrete frames. I don’t how wood framed is safer than say a house built using cold rolled steel framing: the masses are equivalent. For that matter, a properly designed and reinforced concrete house should perform safely in spite of the greatly increased mass.

Liz & Anne;

Regarding Becker not being licensed as an Architect in California: My impression is that architectural graduates can practice as architects in many European Union countries. I thought that some articles indicated that he was a graduate of a German architectural program and was in the process of starting a practice in Spain. I wonder how many architects from EU countries assume that they can practice in the US? Some years ago I was employed by the “Architect of Record” for a building that had been designed by a European architect. I don’t think he ever really understood that he couldn’t tell the contractor to build whatever he wanted and how he wanted: I think he thought we were jealous, incompetent or corrupt, or some combination thereof. Such fond memories. Fortunately for the building owner, as AoR we were able to keep the project legal and safe.
George A. Everding, AIA, CSI, CCS, CCCA
Senior Member
Username: geverding

Post Number: 628
Registered: 11-2004

Posted on Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - 09:59 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

The house has been fixed up and is on the market to sell, according to this article:


Plastic sprinkler pipes are allowed in NFPA 13R, a residential only version of NFPA 13 - the document most of us are familiar with. 13R was developed in the early 90's to provide a level of life safety only for residential occupants - it was never intended to provide protection for property. The idea was that if a more economical residential only sprinkler system could be developed, more single-family and multi-family (smaller projects only) developers would consider adding fire protection.

Besides plastic pipe, NFPA 13R allowes lower water pressure and elimination of some heads that NFPA 13 requires. Also, NFPA 13R was never intended to allow area and height increases for sprinklers similar to those we are all familiar with from building codes and NFPA 13.

So, in summary, NFPA 13R is meant for the type of residences most of us can afford, a couple thousand square feet, two stories, and detached, or for townhouses with party walls, or for multi-family of limited size with appropriate fire separations. I am sure that the creators of NFPA 13R never envisioned it being used in single family unprotected construction of the size of this building.
George A. Everding AIA CSI CCS CCCA
Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies
St. Louis, MO
Mark Gilligan SE,
Senior Member
Username: mark_gilligan

Post Number: 480
Registered: 10-2007
Posted on Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - 04:59 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

There is no requirement that single family homes be constructed of wood in California but those other homes would have to be designed by a registered engineer or architect.

Wood framed single family dwellings not over 2 stories are the only type of construction that does not require a registered architect or engineer in california.
Alan Mays, AIA
Senior Member
Username: amays

Post Number: 91
Registered: 02-2003
Posted on Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - 05:06 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


I am just quoting what the Architect's Act states. You make a good argument for the need of an architect, but then, that argument goes on constantly. Witness the court fight between engineers and architects in Texas. Engineers said that architects were not needed and that their license was good enough.


That article was written the day he was arrested. Old news.
Richard L Matteo, AIA, CSI, CCS
Senior Member
Username: rlmat

Post Number: 507
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Tuesday, June 05, 2012 - 05:16 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Bottom line - it sounds like the guy "messed up" and didn't exercise the required "Standard of Care" in designing the structure that we are bound by. Doesn't matter whether if he was licensed or not, he should have done his "due diligence".
Mark Gilligan SE,
Senior Member
Username: mark_gilligan

Post Number: 481
Registered: 10-2007
Posted on Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - 04:30 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post


The California Business and Professions Code States:

5537. (a) This chapter does not prohibit any person from preparing
plans, drawings, or specifications for any of the following:
(1) Single-family dwellings of woodframe construction not more
than two stories and basement in height.
(2) Multiple dwellings containing no more than four dwelling units
of woodframe construction not more than two stories and basement in
height. However, this paragraph shall not be construed as allowing an
unlicensed person to design multiple clusters of up to four dwelling
units each to form apartment or condominium complexes where the
total exceeds four units on any lawfully divided lot.
(3) Garages or other structures appurtenant to buildings described
under subdivision (a), of woodframe construction not more than two
stories and basement in height.
(4) Agricultural and ranch buildings of woodframe construction,
unless the building official having jurisdiction deems that an undue
risk to the public health, safety, or welfare is involved.
(b) If any portion of any structure exempted by this section
deviates from substantial compliance with conventional framing
requirements for woodframe construction found in the most recent
edition of Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations or tables
of limitation for woodframe construction, as defined by the
applicable building code duly adopted by the local jurisdiction or
the state, the building official having jurisdiction shall require
the preparation of plans, drawings, specifications, or calculations
for that portion by, or under the responsible control of, a licensed
architect or registered engineer. The documents for that portion
shall bear the stamp and signature of the licensee who is responsible
for their preparation. Substantial compliance for purposes of this
section is not intended to restrict the ability of the building
officials to approve plans pursuant to existing law and is only
intended to clarify the intent of Chapter 405 of the Statutes of

It is clear that this provision has do do with whether an architect is required not what type of construction is allowed. There is an exemption from the practice of engineering that is worded essentially the same
Robin E. Snyder
Senior Member
Username: robin

Post Number: 408
Registered: 08-2004
Posted on Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - 10:33 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Rich - it actually does matter if he is licensed. The standard of care for a non-licensed person is that of a reasonable person in similar circumstances. The standard of care for a licensed architect is that of a typical member of the profession.
J. Peter Jordan, FCSI, CCS, AIA, LEED AP (Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - 11:42 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I would think that if what was being constructed did not match what was shown on permitted documents, someone is in big trouble, licensed or not.
Alan Mays, AIA
Senior Member
Username: amays

Post Number: 92
Registered: 02-2003
Posted on Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - 06:00 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

@Mark: You are correct, I was not implying what type of construction is allowed to be built. What I was saying is that he was not a licensed Architect in California and he is allowed to only submit unstamped drawings to the city for those types of buildings since he was not an architect.

Here is an article that the ABA Journal (Law Journal) wrote concerning this case: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/fireplaces_in_11m_home_were_made_of_drywall_officials_say_in_manslaughter/

@Peter: It happens all the time. Owners want to avoid the fees and delays due to the city. There are cities that require that all RFI's be reviewed by them.
Alan Mays, AIA
Senior Member
Username: amays

Post Number: 93
Registered: 02-2003
Posted on Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - 06:09 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

From the comments in the ABA article:

"The documents attached at the link indicate he was in the country when the house caught fire and immediately questioned. Then he left the country. His email account was being monitored, and the prosecutors/investigators figured out he was coming back into the country (from Switzerland) to sell all of his remaining assets including the house, which had been repaired while he was in Europe. The emails also led to the conclusion that he intended to enter the US for just a day or so, then return to Europe to avoid any prosecution. Seventeen firefighters were trapped when the house fell down around them and one died. The only reason it fell down is because it caught fire; the only reason the firefighters were there was because it caught fire; it caught fire because he lit a fire in one of his fireplaces—I don’t see a proximate cause problem, there."
John Bunzick, CCS, CCCA, LEED AP
Senior Member
Username: bunzick

Post Number: 1407
Registered: 03-2002
Posted on Monday, June 11, 2012 - 11:47 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Why wouldn't the contractor who installed the fireplaces have liability? It seems at least somewhat likely that he or she knew that these would not meet code, and that the manufacturer did not recommend their use indoors. Unless they were not a very professional contractor - which with this guy might very well be the case.

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