SALINAS, Calif. (KION) A Salinas resident has been sentenced to four years in state prison after pleading no contest to arson and evading a police officer charge.
In September 2019, the Monterey County District Attorney's Office said Cal Fire responded to a 13-acre brush fire off Old Stage Road.
When investigators looked at surveillance footage from an area business, they saw the driver of a gray Nissan minivan go around the corner on Old Stage Road, cross the double yellow line and throw something from the driver's side window before pulling back into the lane and leaving. About two minutes later, the fire was seen in the grass along the road.
Investigators believed the fire was intentionally set, and they learned that the minivan was registered to 37-year-old Celestino De la Cruz. They used GPS records from his cell phone, and investigators saw that the phone was moving south on Old Stage Road at the time of the fire.
The following month, the DA's Office said Cal Fire responded to another brush fire off Old Stage Road that burned 9.4 acres. When investigators looked at the surveillance video, they saw the same minivan leaving the area just after the fire was reported. They again looked at GPS records and saw that De la Cruz's cell phone moved up San Juan Grade Road before turning onto Old Stage Road.
The DA's Office said a Cal Fire Battalion Chief found a pile of ash made up of a paper product that they believe was the origin of the fire. It was also believed to be intentionally set.
About a week after the second fire, a Sergeant with the Monterey County Sheriff's Office tried to conduct a traffic stop when he saw De la Cruz's vehicle, but instead of stopping, the DA's Office said he led the sergeant on a chase.
When law enforcement contacted De la Cruz, he said he was the only person driving the minivan and did not let anyone borrow it.
The arson charge counts as a strike under California's Three Strikes Law.