Station fire investigators identify a person of interest

Homicide detectives investigating the Station fire near Los Angeles in which two LA County firefighters were killed, want to talk to a person who was seen leaving the scene of an arson fire that burned a few square feet six days before the Station fire began. 

Babatunsin Olukunle, 25, was spotted by U. S. Forest Service workers as he walked away from the August 20 Lady Bug fire that started six miles away from the origin of the August 26 Station fire. It was unknown whether he was thought to be involved in the fire or simply a witness.

Olukunle dropped out of the University of California in 2004 and according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Liam Gallagher, is a transient, is articulate and has an accent. 

LA County and the state have offered a $150,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for the Station fire.

Teen Charged with Arson

The Associated Press reports that Los Angeles County prosecutors have filed arson charges against a 13-year-old boy they believe started the 2,100-acre Morris Fire near Los Angeles last month. Prosecutors in Pomona charged the boy yesterday with two felony counts: arson of a forest and recklessly causing a fire. The boy’s name was not released and he is not in custody. The District Attorney’s office says he must show up for a November arraignment; if convicted, he could be held at a juvenile facility until he turns 25.

Arsonist: 13 years old

The arsonist who torched off the Station Fire on the Angeles National Forest hasn’t been apprehended yet, but investigators do have a suspect in the ignition of the Morris Fire. And he’s 13 years old.

Prosecutors are discussing whether to file charges against the boy, who’s suspected of starting the 2,100-acre fire just north of Azusa, California. According to the L.A. Times, detectives presented the case yesterday to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. They said the boy is “primarily responsible for igniting the fire.”

The Morris Fire took off on August 25 in San Gabriel Canyon — the same day the Station Fire started.
It was contained on September 3. According to an AP story, the 13-year-old suspect is not in custody, but the D.A.’s office says that charges will likely be filed today.

Southern California Public Radio reported that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has not identified the boy. Their report also noted that the ignition point for the Station Fire was miles away from that of the Morris Fire, to the northwest along the Angeles Crest Highway above Pasadena.
The search for the Station arsonist is also a homicide investigation, because of the deaths of Tedmund Hall and Arnaldo Quinones, two L.A. County firefighters who were killed on the fire.

———- UPDATE 09/18/09
Los Angeles County prosecutors say it could take two weeks before they decide whether to file arson charges. Jane Robison with the District Attorney’s office said the case is under review, but prosecutors want more information.

Man appears in court on 191 charges linked to Black Saturday fire

Brendan Sokaluk, 39, appeared on Tuesday in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in Australia via video link from prison. He is facing 191 charges related to one of the fires that burned across Victoria on February 7, including 10 counts of arson causing death, intentionally causing a bushfire, criminal damage, recklessly causing injury, and possessing child pornography. 

The Magistrate set a pretrial hearing date for May 31, where 610 witnesses are expected to testify over six weeks. The hearing will determine if there is enough evidence to begin a jury trial.

Numerous fires burned in Victoria on February 7, Black Saturday, killing 173 people and destroying more than 2,000 homes. Mr. Sokaluk is charged with setting one of the fires which killed 10 people.


Oyler’s brother-in-law turns himself in, wanted for jury tampering, Esperanza fire

Wildfire Today reported on Thursday that the brother-in-law of Raymond Lee Oyler who was convicted and sentenced to death for starting dozens of fires, including the 2006 Esperanza fire that killed five US Forest Service firefighters, was wanted by law enforcement for allegedly tampering with the jury during Oyler’s trial.The fugitive, Christopher Vaughn Hillman, has turned himself in. Earlier this month he fled out the back of his home when law enforcement officers went to the house with a search warrant. Since then his location had not been known.

More details are in our earlier post and also at FDNN.

Esperanza arsonist’s brother-in-law wanted for jury tampering

This is one of those holyshit stories. Christopher Vaugn Hillman, the brother-in-law of Raymond Lee Oyler who was convicted and sentenced to death for starting dozens of fires, including the 2006 Esperanza fire that killed five US Forest Service firefighters, is wanted by law enforcement for tampering with the jury during Oyler’s trial.

Christopher Vaugn Hillman

Riverside County prosecutors in southern California have filed charges against Hillman for allegedly putting fliers of newspaper articles on the windows of juror’s cars. The fliers described evidence that the judge had ruled to be excluded from the trial. During the February trial, three jurors found them during a noon recess and sheriff’s deputies located four more.

The fliers had information about a US Forest Service employee who had been investigated for starting fires in the same general area as the Esperanza fire. Law enforcement officers found Hillman’s fingerprints on the fliers and this month went to his house with a search warrant, but he fled when they arrived and has not been seen since.

An arrest warrant has been issued and a $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to his arrest. Anyone with information on the man’s whereabouts is urged to call the district attorney’s office at (951) 955-5400.

The firefighters that died were from San Bernardino National Forest Engine 57. They were Capt. Mark Allen Loutzenhiser, 43, and crew members Pablo Cerda, 24, Jason Robert McKay, 27, Jess Edward McLean, 27, and Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20.