Trash Truck Operator Arrested In Deadly 2019 Calimesa Blaze

Trash Truck Operator Arrested In Deadly 2019 Calimesa Blaze

Taylor Martinez & City News Service

A 38-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the 2019 Sandalwood Fire, accused of operating the garbage truck that dumped a burning load of trash near a pile of dry vegetation during a windstorm, leading to the blaze that burned over 1,000 acres and killed two residents of a mobile home park in Calimesa.

Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez was taken into custody by Cal Fire Riverside Peace Officers Saturday afternoon, and booked into the Riverside jail on suspicion of unlawfully causing a fire that causes great bodily injury and two counts of involuntary manslaughter, Cal Fire Riverside officials announced Monday.

“The Sandalwood fire was caused by a burning load of trash that was dumped next to dry vegetation by the trash truck that Ornelas-Velazquez was operating,” the agency said.

“The fire spread from the burning pile of trash into the dry vegetation, resulting in the deaths of two civilians, 72 structures destroyed, 16 structures damaged and burned more than 1,000 acres of vegetation before it was contained on October 14, 2019.”

The blaze broke out about 2 p.m. Oct. 10 at Sandalwood Drive and Seventh Street, near the I-10 exit ramp.

Investigators have said the driver of the trash truck released the load after a fire erupted inside the scoop.

Hannah Labelle, 61, and Lois Arvikson, 89, died when flames consumed their doublewide trailers at Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park, which was destroyed as winds blew in excess of 40 mph.

The blaze blackened 1,011 acres total before it was stopped just inside San Bernardino County four days later.

Weeks after the fire, attorneys representing victims said they planned to sue the waste collection company CR&R, alleging the driver’s actions led directly to the fire.

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