Missouri man charged with setting 13 fires in California

Freddie GrahamA Missouri man has been charged with 13 felony counts of wildland fire arson and two additional counts of arson committed during a state of emergency. In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom, declared an emergency status in California for the year’s wildfire season.

According to Santa Clara County prosecutors, Freddie Owen Graham of Lone Jack, Missouri flew to San Jose, California, rented a car, and over a period of two days set 13 fires in the Milpitas area. The largest one, the Reservoir Fire, burned 128 acres.

Investigators allege Mr. Graham used a lighter to set napkins from fast food restaurants on fire and threw them into the vegetation. A good citizen saw him up on a hill, took photos and reported his license plate number to CAL FIRE officials who traced the car to the Hertz outlet at the San Jose Airport. Mr. Graham was arrested while turning in the car.

There is a report by Fox4KC that when the investigators arrived at the airport they discovered that the car seen at the fire had been turned in, but the same person, Mr. Graham, came back and rented another.

Mr. Graham is also facing an arson charge in Lone Jack for setting fire to bales of hay on a tractor trailer August 12, 2018.

Good Samaritan makes citizen’s arrest of arson suspect

From KTLA:

A suspected arsonist accused of setting a series of fires in the Sepulveda Pass near the Getty Center [in Los Angeles] was taken into custody on Monday after a Good Samaritan said he saw the man lighting the fires and stepped in.

That Good Samaritan sprang into action and tackled the man.

arsonist caughtThe suspect was arrested after Richard Lazenby took him down to the ground and held him there until officers arrived. Part of that confrontation was caught on camera.

“I yell at him, like, ‘what are you doing?” Lazenby said. “And he says, ‘I’m destroying everything.'”

Lazenby was driving home from Easter Sunday church service with his family when he saw brush fires burning along Sepulveda Boulevard. He then saw the suspect lighting another fire, and blocked the man with his vehicle.

“So I get out of the car, and my goal was to take him down at that point,” Lazenby said.

Wearing his Sunday best, Lazenby took the suspect to the ground and pinned him.

“Wrestled with him in the street, tumbled over into the weeds, got on top of him, pinned him down with his arms,” Lazenby said.

Lazenby’s wife was recording as their children looked on, at first with fear, then with pride.

TBT, 10 years ago: Oyler convicted for Esperanza fire deaths

For throwback Thursday, here is a copy of an article we published on March 7, 2009. FYI: Raymond Lee Oyler remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison in California.

Raymond Lee Oyler, left, is taken out of Riverside Superior Court after being found guilty on Friday/ Press-Enterprise

A four-man, eight-woman jury today found Raymond Lee Oyler, 38, guilty on 42 of 45 counts against him, including five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device to start fires between May 16, 2006 and Oct. 26, 2006 [including the Esperanza Fire in Southern California in which five U.S. Forest Service firefighters were killed].

Jurors deadlocked on whether he started three smaller wildfires and Superior Court Judge W. Charles Morgan declared a mistrial on those counts.

Here are the verdicts broken down by individual counts (other than the murder charges, some of these are for arson, and others are for using an incendiary device–in some cases two charges for one fire):

  1. Guilty, murder of Mark Loutzenhiser
  2. Guilty, murder of Daniel Hoover-Najera
  3. Guilty, murder of Jess McClean
  4. Guilty, murder of Jason McKay
  5. Guilty, murder of Pablo Cerda
  6. May 16 fire, guilty
  7. May 16 fire, guilty
  8. May 16 fire, guilty
  9. May 29 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  10. May 29 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  11. May 31 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  12. June 3 fire, guilty
  13. June 4 fire, guilty
  14. June 9 fire, guilty
  15. June 10 fire, guilty
  16. June 11 fire, guilty
  17. June 14 fire, guilty
  18. June 14 fire, guilty
  19. June 14 fire, guilty
  20. June 15 fire, guilty
  21. June 28 fire, guilty
  22. July 2 fire, guilty
  23. July 9 fire, guilty
  24. Sept. 16 fire, guilty
  25. Sept 16 fire, guilty
  26. Sept 17 fire, guilty
  27. Oct. 22 fire, guilty
  28. Oct. 26 fire, Esperanza fire, guilty
  29. May 16 fire, guilty
  30. May 16 fire, guilty
  31. May 16 fire, guilty
  32. June 3 fire, guilty
  33. June 7 fire, guilty
  34. June 9 fire, guilty
  35. June 10 fire, guilty
  36. June 11 fire, guilty
  37. June 14 fire, guilty
  38. June 14 fire, guilty
  39. June 14 fire, guilty
  40. June 28 fire, guilty
  41. July 2 fire, guilty
  42. July 9 fire, guilty
  43. Sept. 16 fire, guilty
  44. Sept. 17 fire, guilty
  45. Oct. 26 fire, Esperanza fire, guilty

On the first five counts Olyer was convicted of first degree murder and of special circumstances for “murder in the commission of arson” and for “multiple murders”.

District Attorney Rod Pacheco said the following about the verdicts:

We are obviously satisfied with the verdicts and that the jury was able to sort through the evidence. A substantial amount of justice has occurred, and I hope that this provides a small measure of consolation to the families of the victims.

Oyler was on trial for setting the October 26, 2006, Esperanza fire which burned 41,000 acres near Cabazon, California and resulted in the deaths of the five-person Engine 57 crew from the San Bernardino National Forest. Killed were Capt. Mark Allen Loutzenhiser, 43, Jason Robert McKay, 27, Jess Edward McLean, 27, Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, and Pablo Cerda, 24.

From the LA Times:

After the trial, the sobbing Oyler family hurried to an elevator and left the building. The families of the victims also left without speaking to the media. A U.S. Forest Service spokesman said the families would not speak until after the penalty phases, which will decide whether Oyler gets the death penalty.

Outside the courtroom, Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins praised the verdicts but noted that five firefighters will never come home.

“Their families have suffered a loss that most of us can’t imagine,” he said. “This will not bring complete closure but it will bring the defendant to justice. It will help the families move to another phase of healing.”

Jeanne Wade Evans, supervisor of the San Bernardino National Forest, said arson is a terrible crime that touches so many lives.

“We still feel the loss and we always will,” she said.

At least a dozen current and retired fire personnel filled the left side of the courtroom. They were seated directly behind relatives of the five fallen USFS crew members.

Sentencing, which could include the death penalty for the murder charges, will begin Tuesday when the jury returns for that phase.


UPDATE November 12, 2013:

Esperanza Fire Factual Report, and the USDA Office of Inspector General’s Report on the fire.

Man sentenced to 12 years for starting Cranston Fire

The blaze destroyed five homes and burned 13,000 acres near Idyllwild, California in July, 2018

Cranston and Ribbon Fires
The view of the Cranston and Ribbon Fires, from High Point at 3:29 p.m. PDT July 26, 2018.

On Thursday a judge sentenced a man to 12 years and four months in prison for intentionally starting the Cranston Fire near Idyllwild, California on July 25, 2018. Brandon McGlover pleaded guilty to two felony counts of burning a structure or forest land. Judge Kelly Hansen also ordered him to pay restitution to the victims.

The fire destroyed five homes and burned 13,000 acres.

Brandon McGlover
Brandon McGlover, Photo: Riverside County Sheriff’s Department

Mr. McGlover was arrested the same day the fire started after witnesses saw him start multiple fires. One of the witnesses followed him and provided a description of the vehicle to law enforcement.

He was originally charged with 15 felonies, on allegations that he also set eight other fires two days before he ignited the Cranston fire. Prosecutors and the judge allowed him to plead guilty to two charges and then sentenced him to the maximum allowed, 12 years and four months in prison.

Cranston Fire
The Cranston Fire July 26, 2018. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

Arson suspect had been under surveillance before arrest for starting Clayton Fire

CAL FIRE officers attached a GPS tracking device to the suspect’s car

Clayton fire Firefighters from CAL FIRE attempt to save a structure on the Clayton Fire. Photo by Mike Forster.

Lake County residents who were under evacuation orders while the Clayton Fire was still burning were surprised when County Sheriff Brian Martin and CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott announced that a suspect had been arrested for starting that fire and 15 others. The Chief disclosed the information during a public meeting about the fire on August 15, 2016, two days after it started. The blaze eventually destroyed 300 structures in Lower Lake, California and burned more than 3,900 acres. Damin Anthony Pashilk was charged with 20 felonies. Bail was set at $5 million.

Damin Pashilk Damin Anthony Pashilk. Photo: Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

In a preliminary hearing that began last week it was revealed that CAL FIRE law enforcement officers had Mr. Pashilk, previously convicted of arson, under surveillance for more than a year. He was followed by multiple officers with the aid of a GPS tracking device attached to Mr. Pashilk’s car. At times they were miles behind his car but were able to follow him as they observed his location on a real-time map.

The details of the surveillance discussed during the hearing as reported by Elizabeth Larson of the  the Lake County News read like a detective novel. Below is an excerpt from the article:

On Aug. 13, 2016, [CAL FIRE Forester Damon] Denman – like [CAL FIRE Battalion Chief John] Schnaidt – was conducting mobile surveillance of Pashilk, both following him in his vehicle and using the data from the GPS tracker that had been reinstalled on the Chrysler the previous day.

He had started following the Chrysler as it traveled north on Highway 29 toward Lower Lake just after 4:30 p.m. Denman estimated he was about two to three miles behind the Chrysler when he saw the icon for the vehicle on the GPS tracker signal that it had turned onto Clayton Creek Road’s north entrance a few minutes before 5 p.m. and driven in about a quarter mile before turning around, returning to Highway 29 and continuing north.

Shortly after the Chrysler left, Denman turned onto Clayton Creek Road and drove about 1,000 feet. As he came around a corner he saw a fire on the lefthand side – or the east side – of the road, approximately 15 feet in diameter, burning in thigh high grass.

“It was burning aggressively,” Denman said, explaining that he pulled over and reported it to 911. Schnaidt pulled up behind him and marked the edges of the fire [with four very large metal washers].

Suspect arrested, suspected of starting the Holy Fire

There are reports that the suspect sent an email to the local fire chief saying “this place will burn”.

Forrest Gordon Clark
Forrest Gordon Clark. Credit: Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was arrested Wednesday, suspected of starting the Holy Fire which has burned 9,614 acres in Orange and Riverside Counties in Southern California. Officials said that on Thursday he will be charged with felony arson, felony threat to terrorize, and misdemeanor resisting arrest.

Mr. Clark owns one of 14 cabins in an area of Trabuco Canyon in the general area where the fire started. All of the cabins in the area burned except for his, according to Newsmax.

The Orange County Register reports that at one point on Tuesday Mr. Clark took off all his clothes while Deputies were questioning him. Newsmax wrote that other residents said he threatened firefighters with a sword while they were fighting the fire.

The video below is an interview with Mr. Clark conducted by OnsceneTV before he was arrested.

Below is unedited footage shot by OnsceneTV that appears to be in Trabuco Canyon on the west side of the Holy Fire. Mr. Clark can be seen several times as Deputies talked with him.