A garbage truck driver accused of throwing a searing load of garbage that led to the fatal sandalwood fire in 2019 that killed two people and destroyed more than 1,000 acres of vegetation has been charged with two counts of manslaughter, California authorities said Tuesday. .
Driver Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez, 38, of Desert Hot Springs, who was arrested on Saturday, was also charged with unlawfully starting a fire causing serious bodily harm, prison records and a statement from Riverside County Fire Department.
If convicted on all counts, he could face a maximum sentence of 13 years in prison, according to John Hall, a spokesperson for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. Mr Ornelas-Velazquez has been released on bail and is expected to return to court in June, according to prison records.
Phone calls and Facebook messages left for Mr. Ornelas-Velazquez were not immediately answered Tuesday evening.
The deadly blaze erupted on October 10, 2019, amid a period of dry and windy weather that had led authorities to warn residents of the potential fires. Mr Ornelas-Velazquez, authorities said, threw a load of burning garbage on the side of the road in Calimesa, Calif., Causing a blaze that quickly spread to a nearby field and threw black plumes in the sky.
While driving, Mr. Ornelas-Velazquez noticed smoke coming from his hopper, stopped “and compacted the hot load inside the hopper of the truck,” according to a statement in support of a arrest warrant for Mr. Ornelas-Velazquez of the California Department. Forestry and fire protection.
“The day was hot, dry and unusually windy,” he said. “The winds were blowing from the truck directly towards the dry scrub wilderness.”
While Mr. Ornelas-Velazquez was arrested, a driver of a Frito Lay truck stopped by his side and warned him “on several occasions of the danger of fire presented by high winds”, according to the statement. This driver asked Mr. Ornelas-Velazquez not to throw his garbage on fire in this area, he said. Another driver who stopped also warned him not to throw away the garbage, according to the report.
The blaze killed two people, destroyed more than 70 structures and reached the size of Central Park. The two victims were found inside the Villa Calimesa mobile home park, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
The fire was brought under control on October 14, four days after it started.
Sheelagh McNeill contributed to the research.