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Two young men avoided possible life sentences in a plea deal today, April 13, when they admitted setting a fire last summer that consumed more than 14,000 acres, injured 18 firemen, and caused more than $15 million in property damage, according to investigators.

Jeremy Ortiz, 24, and Jesse James Durbin, 23, both pleaded guilty to arson of a structure and forest land when they started a fire at a small guard shack owned by Eagle Rock Training Center on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, in San Diego’s East County.

The fire reportedly spread rapidly after 10 p.m. the night of July 21, 2011, and emergency personnel had to evacuate the two arsonists, Ortiz and Durbin, from a home nearby where they were found, according to officer James Garrett of the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection.

Investigators located a Ford Expedition, registered to Ortiz’s father, stuck on the road near the burnt guard shack and observed that it had a damaged windshield with blood stains. The hood of this vehicle was still warm to the touch, and a red plastic fuel container and Bic lighter and beer cans could be observed inside the vehicle, Officer Garrett stated. More empty cans of the same beer, Keystone, were recovered from around the burnt guard shack.

Durbin reportedly admitted punching the windshield after he got the vehicle stuck and officers observed damage to the knuckles of his right hand, according to Officer Garrett. Ortiz told investigators it was Durbin who smashed the surveillance camera at the guard shack and then carried it to Ortiz’s home, where the camera was recovered by investigators.

Prosecutor Terri Perez said today that each arsonist is expected to get six years in state prison when they are sentenced next month, and that victims and “the command at Cal Fire” approved of this plea deal.

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Eva Knott April 13, 2012 @ 12:16 p.m.

It appears one defendant may have decorated his face with a bit of black plastic fork, that might be what is in one eyebrow here. Deputies tell me the jail inmates have to make-do with non-metallic jewelry. Posted by Eva Knott


SurfPuppy619 April 13, 2012 @ 12:22 p.m.

Many inmates in County have metal piercings. The reason I was given is that they do not come-out, or don't come out very easily. This is contraband in County.


SurfPuppy619 April 13, 2012 @ 12:25 p.m.

I don't get it-18 people injured, and many could have been killed, untold in gov costs, and only 6 years in the Pen. Seems pretty light to me.

I would be curious as to whether the good time credits will apply to this crime, and if it is a "strike" offense.


Visduh April 13, 2012 @ 12:32 p.m.

It sounds like a strike to me. If this isn't a strike, what is?


Eva Knott April 15, 2012 @ 5:18 p.m.

Judge Daniel Goldstein made it clear that the single arson charge admitted will be counted as one "serious felony" and "one strike" for each defendant. Posted by Eva Knott.


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