Sentence Meted in Firehouse Burglaries

A former supply clerk for the Ventura County Fire Department, who broke into fire stations after luring crews away with false alarms, was sentenced Friday to one year in jail and five years' probation.

Santa Paula resident Paul F. Lopez--who pleaded guilty in December to four burglary charges--blamed his actions on frustration over an inability to become a firefighter because of a knee operation.

Lopez did not speak during the sentencing hearing, but explained his crimes in a letter to Superior Court Judge Allan Steele, who handed down the sentence.

Lopez, 34, had been charged with breaking into eight firehouses and stealing more than $2,000 worth of cash and property. He pleaded guilty to four counts, and the remaining charges were dismissed Friday.

The false calls were to Stations 31 and 34 in Thousand Oaks, Station 46 in Simi Valley and Station 56 in the Malibu area east of Mugu Rock.

His letter said firefighters knew of his aspiration to join the force and generally encouraged his efforts, which included obtaining a firefighter certificate.

But after knee surgery in April, some firefighters pointed out that the operation and his advanced age could interfere with Lopez's dream of dousing blazes.

In court, a defense lawyer added that the burglaries stemmed from frustration instead of desire for financial gain. Property taken during the break-ins--including a Camcorder, television and camera--has been returned, authorities said. No money was ever recovered.

The judge agreed that Lopez did not deserve prison, but admonished the defendant for putting the lives of firefighters on the line with the false alarms.

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