Funerals held for two firefighters; official says car linked to suspect found near other arsons
VICTORVILLE, Calif. – A car linked to a man charged with setting a wildfire that killed five firefighters was spotted near at least 10 other arsons, an official involved in the investigation said Friday.Cameras secretly placed atop utility poles in remote areas captured details of a car registered to a man who said he had sold it to Raymond Lee Oyler months ago, said the official, who requested anonymity because the case was continuing.The official said detectives then began investigating Oyler for a string of arsons and found evidence linking him to last week’s deadly fire. The cameras did not catch Oyler setting that fire, the official said.On Thursday, when Oyler was charged with murder and arson, prosecutors described the evidence against him as overwhelming, but they have not provided details.The first funerals were being held Friday for members of the five-man U.S. Forest Service crew that was overtaken Oct. 26 as the blaze roared through the San Jacinto Mountains 90 miles east of Los Angeles. The wildfire, one of an unusually high number of arson blazes in the region this year, destroyed 34 homes and charred more than 60 square miles before being contained Monday.Oyler, a 36-year-old auto mechanic from Beaumont, has denied any involvement. In a jailhouse interview, he told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside that he was home with his baby girl when the fire broke out and that he had “no idea why they came to me.””All I know is I didn’t do this and they’re trying to pin this on me,” Oyler said. “They need to find the real person.”At the first funeral Friday, assistant engine operator Jason McKay was remembered for his strength, his sense of duty and for helping deliver a baby several months ago.”Jason McKay gave his life while protecting someone else’s life and property, and even though we honor his noble service today, at the same time we mourn his passing,” said Jeff Barbour, a pastor at High Desert Church in Victorville.Mourners watched on a video screen as photos flashed by showing McKay, 27, and his fiancee camping and rafting, and a smiling McKay covered in soot after fighting a fire.McKay’s mother, Bonnie McKay, was presented a folded American flag, which she clutched to her chest as she walked, supported by a Forest Service official, between two lines of firefighters. Another official next to her carried a square urn containing her son’s ashes, and the rest of the family followed, holding hands and wiping away tears.”He was my strength, and I couldn’t be more proud of him,” said Jason McKay’s sister Brenda Zimmerman.A funeral for engine operator Jess McLean, 27, was to be held later Friday, with others scheduled into next week. A public memorial service for all five was planned for Sunday.Oyler has pleaded not guilty to five counts of murder, 11 counts of arson and 10 counts of use of an incendiary device. The charges include seven fires in June, one in July, one in September and two in October.Oyler, who is being held without bail, “adamantly denies involvement in this fire and in any of these fires,” his attorney Mark McDonald said outside court Thursday. “He’s very distraught and scared. … The finger is pointing at him.”The charges are punishable by life in prison without parole or the death penalty. Prosecutors said they will decide in the next 60 days which sentence to seek.