Report: Man set wildfire to save pit bull
RIVERSIDE, Calif. ” The girlfriend of a man charged with setting a wildfire that killed five firefighters last year told investigators he had wanted to start a fire as a diversion so he could get his pit bull out of an animal shelter, according to a sheriff’s report.
The report, obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, also said that Raymond Lee Oyler told his cousin that he spent an entire night one week before the deadly blaze “casing the area” for a good arson location.
Oyler’s attorney, Mark McDonald, said the cousin was not a credible witness because she had a feud with Oyler, and that the girlfriend, Crystal Breazille, denies telling investigators anything in the report.
Breazille “was badgered, just badgered,” McDonald said. “They would say ‘Didn’t you know this?’ and ‘Didn’t you see this?’ and they were telling her she could be implicated.”
Oyler was arrested in October after a wind-whipped fire raced through the foothills near Banning, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. The 36-year-old auto mechanic, who is charged with a total of 11 arsons, has pleaded not guilty to arson and murder charges.
The report said Oyler’s dog had been impounded earlier in the month after biting a woman. It said Breazille told investigators Oyler had intended to get the pit bull out of the Banning Animal Shelter after setting a fire, but the report does not say whether Oyler freed the animal.
The report also said Breazille told investigators that Oyler told her about using a cigarette-and-matches device to start fires, although she never saw the devices. Investigators believe such devices were used to start all but one of the blazes Oyler is charged with.
Breazille and several of Oyler’s relatives have repeatedly declined interview requests.
McDonald pointed out that his client wasn’t charged with seven other arsons started in the same time period using cigarette-and-matches devices because he was at work at the time the fires started.
Oyler’s cousin, Jill Frame, told investigators that Oyler told her in late October that he had slept in his car because he was searching for a good place to start a fire, the report said. Frame also told investigators that Oyler said he had started several fires in the area that day.
In a visit two days before the start of the deadly fire, Frame said, Oyler asked her for a ride so he could set the mountain on fire, according to another sheriff’s report obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Prosecutor Michael Hestrin said he could not comment on the reports.
Oyler was expected to appear Monday in a Riverside courtroom for a hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with his trial.
Firefighters Jason McKay, 27; Jess McLean, 27; Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20; Mark Loutzenhiser, 43; and Pablo Cerda, 23, were overrun by flames on Oct. 26 while protecting a home. McKay, McLean and Hoover-Najera died at the scene. Loutzenhiser died several hours later and Cerda died several days later.