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Suspected arsonist who set multiple fires throughout Imperial County has first appearance in court

Members of the Imperial County Farm Bureau attended the preliminary hearing to seek justice - 13 on your side's Vanessa Gongora reports

BRAWLEY, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - On the morning of May 23, a 57-year-old man who allegedly set multiple haystacks on fire throughout Imperial County, had his first preliminary court hearing after getting arrested on April 24 2022.

The suspect's defense asked that the hearing be pushed back because there are mental health records she needs to access and would like to present to the court.

Judge Monica Lepe-Negrete approved and said, " I expect that your office will continue to give up whatever discoveries necessary for the purposes of the prelim so that we don't have any further delays, and if there's going to be further charges, those need to be figured out in advance. I'm giving everyone enough time to do that so I expect that we won't have those issues coming up on the court dates.

Judge Lepe-Negrete addressed the suspect making sure he comprehends the process of the hearings.

"This preliminary hearing is a probable cause hearing at which the people bear the burden to show that there is sufficient evidence to keep the case moving forward, to hold you to answer and to take you to trial on these charges. Do you understand?" Judge Lepe-Negrete asked.

Members of the Imperial County Farm Bureau attended the preliminary hearing to seek justice of the damage that was done to their farms.

The President of the Imperial County Farm Bureau, Jeff Plourd, says he was expecting exactly what happened today and this is why the Bureau is reimplementing the "Burn a Bale, Go to Jail" campaign.

"We have this burn a bale, go to jail campaign which is a campaign about 35 years ago in Imperial County when we were having a lot of haystack fires and all of a sudden this started reoccurring a lot in the last year, year and a half. This person went out and did a lot of arsons and so we brought back this campaign to put public awareness out to let the people know that if these types of activities happen, there is jail time for that," said Plourd.

Plourd says they've gotten together as an export group and all of Imperial County Farm Bureau members to put up monies to fund the campaign.

"As well as a reward money in the future and we're working on that as we speak," Plourd said.

Bryan Wray, Chairman of the "Burn a Bale, Go to Jail," campaign says these arsons are hurting the farmers in various ways.

"Everybody comes together and is fully aware of what the damages can do. It can go farther than just a bale being burnt. It can go farther of farmers not being insured. Sometimes it can go farther than what's going on, so a lot of people are being educated on what's happening and the damages that have occurred and can give a long term effect," says Wray.

Plourd and Wray said they were surprised when they found out the suspect worked as a farm irrigator because he knows how hard farmers work.

"Well we're hoping he goes to jail for a long time. Just the one day, was almost a million dollars worth of damage to various people. And than the resources that the county and cities and our fire departments, when these guys are out defending and protecting property by people burning bales, they aren't available to go out to someone that really might need that help and so it's really a community effort," said Plourd.

The suspect is booked for multiple counts of arson with a $1 million bail.

His next preliminary hearing is set to be on June 20, 2022 at 9 a.m. located in the Brawley Courthouse.

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Vanessa Gongora

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