Felon Admits Starting Fire in Attempt to Kill Homeless Man

City News Service Pristine Villarreal

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A convicted felon who intentionally set a fire at a Riverside homeless encampment that burned a man whom the defendant wanted to kill pleaded guilty Thursday to attempted murder and was immediately sentenced to 21 years in state prison.

Joseph Wayne Breyer, 43, of Riverside admitted the felony charge, along with a sentence-enhancing great bodily injury allegation, under a plea agreement with the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. In exchange for his admissions, prosecutors dropped an arson charge.

Superior Court Judge Sean Crandell certified the terms of the plea bargain and imposed the sentence stipulated by the prosecution and defense.

According to the Riverside Police Department, about 7:30 a.m. on April 15, 2022, Breyer was in a homeless encampment in the 5700 block of Van Buren Boulevard, just south of Riverside Municipal Airport, when he intentionally ignited the fire next to a transient sleeping at the location.

The flames burned the victim’s legs before he was able to jump to his feet and flee to safety, according to investigators.

Fire crews reached the site within a few minutes and contained the blaze to a confined space within the encampment. No structures were damaged.

Paramedics treated the burn victim, whose identity was not disclosed, after which he was transported to Riverside Community Hospital for additional treatment of moderate injuries, according to police.

He has since recovered.

Police detectives and municipal arson investigators worked the case jointly, and less than a week later, Breyer was identified as the assailant, according to police spokesman Officer Ryan Railsback.

He said Breyer was taken into custody without incident on Van Buren and interviewed by the investigative team, culminating in his being booked into the downtown Riverside jail.

A possible motive for the attack was not disclosed.

According to court records, Breyer has prior convictions for arson resulting in property damage, felony vandalism and possession of controlled substances. Records show that he has been charged multiple times with parole or probation violations over the last decade, but the charges were consistently dismissed.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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