California authorities arrested a garbage truck driver suspected of having connections with a 2019 fire in Sandalwood, which killed two victims and burned through 1,000 acres.
On Saturday, Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez was taken into custody by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection peace officers. Authorities charged the suspect with two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawfully causing a fire that causes great bodily injury.
Murder by Fire
The Riverside County Fire Department posted a tweet revealing officials accused Ornelas-Velazquez of starting the massive fire when he placed burning trash next to dry vegetation.
“The fire spread from the burning pile of trash into the dry vegetation, resulting in the deaths of two civilians, 72 structures destroyed, 16 structures damaged and burned more than 1,000 acres of vegetation,” said fire officials.
Two separate drivers warned the suspect that dumping the trash could create a fire hazard, the arrest report said. However, authorities believe Ornelas-Velazquez ignored the warnings and threw away his burning waste, setting fire to the bush.
The official report wrote that powerful winds carried the flames in the direction of a mobile home park. Fire officials were only able to contain the fire in October 2019.
Authorities found the bodies of both victims inside the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park, one of whom was identified to be 89-year-old Lois Arvikson.
Talking to reporters, Arvikson’s son said he was talking with his mother on the phone while she was getting ready to escape from their home when the phone line suddenly got cut, NBC News reported.
Officials identified the other victim to be 61-year-old Hannah Labelle. A family friend of the victim, Kaitlin Campbell, said the deceased was struggling to flee from the flames and tried to use a garden hose to put it out when it reached the rear of her home.
“A witness said they [saw] her go inside her home after being unable to fight the fire, only never to be seen again,” Campbell said. Authorities discovered Labelle’s body inside her home and immediately pronounced her dead at the scene.