Garbage truck driver charged in Sandalwood fire that killed 2
A Calimesa man has been arrested in connection with a brush fire in Riverside County that killed two people and destroyed dozens of homes in 2019, authorities said.
Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez, 38, was arrested Saturday and charged with involuntary manslaughter and unlawfully causing a fire resulting in great bodily injury, according to a spokesperson with the Riverside County district attorney’s office. After posting $75,000 bond, Ornelas-Velazquez was released Sunday, according to jail records.
The fast-moving Sandalwood fire erupted on Oct. 10, 2019, after the driver of a garbage truck dumped a “hot load” — a pile of burning trash — along the side of 7th Street near dried-out vegetation, Capt. Fernando Herrera, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said at the time. Ornelas-Velazquez was operating that truck, authorities said.
Lois Arvickson died in her home after burning garbage was dumped nearby and started the Sandalwood fire. Residents struggle to adapt to a new reality.
Garbage trucks often haul a dangerous cocktail of combustible items — batteries, pesticides, paint — and it’s not unheard of for drivers to dump a simmering load, Herrera said at the time.
Two women who lived in the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park were killed when the fast-moving Sandalwood fire — named for a street near the mobile home park — swept through the neighborhood on Oct. 10, 2019. Hannah Labelle, 61, and Lois Arvickson, 89, could not outrun the flames that overcame the community and ultimately destroyed 74 structures.
A declaration in support of the arrest warrant stated that Ornelas-Velazquez noticed smoke coming from his hopper while driving a trash truck for CR&R Recycling and pulled over to compact the burning load next to open brush.
A Frito-Lay truck driver and a second motorist stopped to tell Ornelas-Velazquez that the area posed a fire danger and warned him against dumping anything that was burning during a Santa Ana wind advisory, prosecutors said.
The fire ultimately burned 1,011 acres over four days before it was contained.
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