Trash-truck driver charged in 2019 Calimesa fire that killed 2 – Redlands Daily Facts
A CR&R Recycling garbage truck driver accused of ignoring warnings from other motorists not to dispose of his burning cargo on a windy day was accused of starting the 2019 sandalwood fire in Calimesa that killed two people and killed 88 Properties were said to have been damaged or destroyed.
Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez, 38, of Desert Hot Springs was charged with two cases of involuntary manslaughter and one case of fire in an occupied home, according to the Riverside County Prosecutor’s complaint.
He is also facing punitive reforms that seriously injure several people, burn several buildings, and start a fire during a state of emergency declared by the governor.
Ornelas-Velazquez was charged and arrested Thursday, February 11, and was admitted to the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning on Saturday. He was released the next day after putting $ 75,000 on bail. His first appearance in court was provisionally scheduled for June 15.
Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez (Cal Fire / Riverside County Fire Department)
The load was dumped on 7th Street north of Sandalwood Drive while a red flag warning of high winds in Santa Ana that left the brush tinder-dry was in effect, the Cal Fire / Riverside County Fire Department said.
The flames quickly spread to Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park, where dozens of homes, outbuildings and RVs were destroyed or damaged.
Hannah Labelle (61) and Lois Arvickson (89) died.
Ornelas-Velazquez was on his way to CR&R Recycling when he saw smoke coming out of his funnel for an arrest warrant, according to an affidavit from a Cal Fire investigator. Ornelas-Velazquez pulled up on a dirty shoulder beside the brush and compacted his load.
CONNECTED: The national protocol allows garbage trucks to throw burning cargo on the street
“A Frito-Lay truck driver stopped next to Ornelas-Velazquez and warned him several times of the risk of fire from the strong winds,” wrote the investigator. “The winds were blowing from the truck directly towards the dry bushland. The Frito-Lay driver asked Ornelas-Velazquez not to dump his load of burning garbage in that particular location.
“A second driver stopped and warned Ornelas-Velazquez that his current location was a fire hazard and suggested Ornelas-Velazquez drive to a nearby freeway overpass to dump the burning cargo,” the investigator wrote. “Ornelas-Velazquez ignored both warnings and released the burning materials.”
Cal Fire said Ornelas-Velazquez was arrested “after hundreds of hours of investigation”. A press release did not explain why it took more than a year to determine who was responsible for the fire or why investigators concluded that the ignition was a crime.
It was not immediately known whether Ornelas-Velazquez would be represented by a lawyer.
70-year-old Elizabeth Kolozsvari, whose mobile home survived the inferno, was ambivalent about the arrest. It won’t bring back the two people who died, she said on Tuesday. But she wishes Ornelas-Velazquez had dumped his burning cargo elsewhere.
“He had an overpass, he had a parking lot,” she said. “I don’t know why he couldn’t just go 500 feet and throw it away.”
Kolozsvari has not withdrawn because the park still has no electricity. She said she pays more to rent an apartment than she does for her mobile home. She also pays storage fees.
“It’s a nightmare,” she said.
In 2019, Sandalwood fire victims sued CR&R for being responsible for the fire and the owners of the mobile home park alleged they had failed to safely maintain the property, put in a warning system and put in place an exit plan.
Among the plaintiffs is one of Arvickson’s sons, Donald Turner. The lawsuit, which seeks compensation for emotional stress, among other things, says he spoke to his mother on the phone when the fire was burning around her. The line was cut while they were talking.
“Given the gruesome nature of the circumstances, including Mrs. Arvickson’s panicked, desperate description of her grave circumstances, followed by the separation of the line, it was clear (Turner) that he was simultaneously aware of the gruesome, fiery death of his beloved mother”, it says in the lawsuit.
CR&R, questioning the emotional distress claim, argued in its court response that Turner could not have known that his mother was killed at that precise moment.
Benjamin Petiprin, an attorney with the Huntington Beach law firm who represents the victims, said testimony will be given in the case this week.
“The fact that we have a video and several people are warning him not to drop the charge, CR&R is likely to be liable for punitive damages,” Petiprin said Tuesday.
In its court record, CR&R did not directly deny responsibility for the fire, but wrote that the prosecutors failed to prove their case and that the lawsuit was misworded. Mobile home park owners said in their response filed in court that they had taken “reasonable care” in maintaining the property and that others were responsible for the fire.
It was unclear whether Ornelas-Velazquez continues to work at CR&R or whether the company has changed its policy on unloading burning loads.
According to the National Waste and Recycling Association in Washington, DC, it is not uncommon for trash to catch fire spontaneously, and it is common nationwide for trucks to dispose of the hot cargo and call the fire department