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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 3:31 pm | Fair 62º


Defendants in Jesusita Case Receive Community Service

Craig Ilenstine and Dana Larsen also must pay fines for clearing trails without the proper firefighting equipment

The two men charged with trail-clearing near the origin of the Jesusita Fire without proper firefighting equipment were sentenced to 250 hours of community service and three years of probation on Wednesday after changing their pleas to no contest.

Craig Ilenstine and Dana Larsen are local contractors who were using metal-bladed weed wackers to clear brush the morning the blaze started in May 2009.

In front of Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Jean Dandona, the defense attorneys already had successfully argued to have the first count — of trail clearing with a metal-bladed weed wacker without a hot work permit — dismissed.

The state Fire Marshal’s office agreed with Dandona’s ruling that fire code hot-work statutes didn’t apply to grass- and brush-cutting with metal-bladed tools.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Jerry Lulejian argued for jail time and harsh fines for deterrent purposes, criticizing the men for going into the hills and doing “this crazy thing” of using metal-bladed power tools to clear brush.

Though there was no legal causation between the case and the start of the fire, and Lulejian lost all chance at criminal restitution with the dismissal of the first count, he said he wanted to bring Jesusita Fire victims into the courtroom to “show the court the tremendous amount of loss.”

Dandona denied the request, saying civil court is the place for such hearings, and Larsen’s defense attorney, Larry Powell, said many insurance companies already have approached the men.

“This will follow them for a long time,” he said.

Cal Fire has expressed a desire to file for civil restitution against the two men, as well.

Powell and Sam Eaton, representing Ilenstine, said their clients thought they were doing a service to the community and argued for community service rather than jail time.

“Honestly, they don’t think they started that fire,” Powell said.

Dandona also ordered the defendants to pay standard fines for violating the public resource code — $490, plus $125 in court fees. Community service comes with additional fees.

“I don’t see there’s anything to be gained by sentencing the defendants to serve jail time,” Dandona said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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