By Joe Piasecki and Gary Walker
A 22-year-old man accused of starting Monday’s natural gas leak at the Southern California Gas Co. facility in Playa del Rey pleaded not guilty today to four felony charges, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
James Viramonte Cogley is charged with attempted arson, grand theft auto, unlawful taking of a vehicle and vandalism.
Cogley allegedly caused the leak by driving a truck over a valve at the facility near Manchester Avenue, where the company stores natural gas underground. He’s also accused of damaging electrical panels at the site and stealing a pick-up truck later found crashed against a parked car about a mile away, according to prosecutors.
Cogley faces up to five years in prison and has been released on $200,000 bail.
Southern California Gas Co. spokeswoman Angela Fentiman said a contractor’s vehicle that had been parked at the site struck a half-inch gas valve at about 12:30 a.m. on Monday.
“It made a very loud noise and we understand why some residents might have been alarmed,” Fentiman said. But, “when natural gas escapes, it rises in the air and dissipates, so there was no danger to any of the neighbors at all.”
A Los Angeles Police Dept. bomb squad unit was dispatched to clear the scene, LAPD Officer Wendy Reyes said.
The Playa del Rey gas storage facility also made headlines in January 2013 after a gas leak caught fire and briefly flamed as high as 100 feet.