- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2001

UKIAH, Calif. (AP) — A man accused of starting the fire that led to the deaths of two air tanker pilots was arraigned yesterday on murder charges. He is accused of operating a drug lab that may have been part of a ring involving the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang.
Frank Brady, 50, was arraigned on two counts of murder, one count of manufacturing drugs and one count of causing the 270-acre brush fire the pilots were fighting in Mendocino County when their planes collided Monday evening.
District Attorney Norm Vroman said Mr. Brady told authorities he started the fire and that he was a member of the Hell's Angels gang. Fire investigators said they found a methampethamine lab near the fire pit where they believe the blaze began.
"He says he was there. He says he started the fire," Mr. Vroman said outside the courtroom following the arraignment. "At the beginning point of the fire, there was a meth lab."
Authorities said it was not yet clear, though, whether the fire began during the manufacture of drugs.
Attorney Richard Petersen, who represented Mr. Brady in court yesterday, said prosecutors went too far in holding Mr. Brady responsible for the deaths of the two pilots.
"It's a stretch to make it murder," Mr. Petersen said.
Prosecutors said they are investigating a possible connection to a broader drug ring, potentially involving the Hell's Angels.
Pilots Larry Groff, 55, and Lars Stratte, 45, died when their planes collided.
Mr. Groff's plane was approaching the blaze, ready to drop 800 gallons of fire retardant, when it collided with Mr. Stratte's plane, which was circling the blaze also to release retardant.


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