Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced Monday that Warren Clayton Berry pleaded, as charged, to two felony counts of arson of forest land occurring on Oct. 29, 2011. Trial in the case was scheduled to start Monday.
In entering his pleas, Berry admitted that he willfully and maliciously ignited forest land on fire at two locations outside of Buellton.
The first fire was ignited about 1:16 p.m. in roadside brush along Alisal Road near Old Coast Highway. It burned about a half-acre. Authorities were notified by residents in the area and passing motorists.
The second fire occurred at 1:35 p.m. in roadside brush along Highway 101 at Nojoqui Summit. A semi-tractor trailer driver observed the defendant throw a flaming object out of his vehicle, which ignited roadside vegetation. The fire burned about a quarter-acre.
The Santa Barbara County Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service resources responded to both fires. The semi-tractor trailer driver attempted to follow the defendant after he fled at a high rate of speed. Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers apprehended the defendant near El Capitan State Beach. Due to the quick fire department response and prevailing weather conditions that day, no structures were damaged.
Sentencing is set for Jan. 27 in Santa Barbara Superior Court, Department 10 before Judge Clifford Anderson.
“The vigilance of citizens who witnessed the fires and provided information to the authorities on the defendant’s suspicious behavior at the time that the fires occurred lead to the successful investigation and prosecution of this case,” prosecuting attorney Mary Barron said. “The District Attorney’s Office did not offer a plea bargain on this case. The defendant faces seven years and four months in state prison.”
Dudley stated that her office “understands all too well that arson is not a victimless crime. Our Arson Task Force has now been meeting for 3 years with the single goal of making sure our office supports careful investigations, and when appropriate, zealous prosecutions of arsonists who seek to destroy lives and properties in Santa Barbara County.”