Wildfire arsonist convicted of murder, hijacks car then commits suicide

In a bizarre series of incidents, on August 3 a man committed suicide who had pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge for starting the 1997 Hemlock Fire in southern California which killed an aerial firefighter.

Cary Thomas Meeks admitting throwing an illegal firecracker into a grassy area of the San Bernardino National Forest in 1997 resulting in the 3,700-acre fire. In 1998 he received a sentence of three year’s probation for the crime. Since then he has been in and out of jail for other offenses.

Helicopter pilot Floyd Hiser was dropping water on the Hemlock Fire on July 6, 1997 when his helicopter lost power and crashed near Highland. He reportedly said “flame out” twice on the radio before his Bell 206 L-1 crashed. The National Transportation Safety Board said malfunctioning fuel-line valves caused the crash.

Mr. Meeks had a busy day on Saturday beginning with slashing the throat of a 67-year old man, who survived. U.S. Forest Service firefighters from the San Bernardino National Forest responded to that medical aid incident.

Mr. Meeks then carjacked a vehicle from a 73-year old man and led police officers on a chase at speeds up to 100 mph, with the vehicle’s owner in the car, who called 911 and described what was going on. Eventually the owner was let out of the vehicle, after which Mr. Meeks steered the car at high speed into a concrete bridge pillar without breaking. He died in the crash. He had previously told the vehicle’s owner he was going to kill himself.

Mr. Meeks had several other run-ins with law enforcement since starting the fire. The Riverside Press-Enterprise which always does an excellent job covering wildfires, has all of the details.


Thanks go out to Ken

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Wildfire arsonist convicted of murder, hijacks car then commits suicide”

  1. I know I should feel bad for the guy but he made it clear what he wanted and what was needed. At least he did it himself and didnt take anyone with him. Why was he out and not in jail?


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